Quick question… Can you imagine your life without the everyday conveniences of your phones or computers? Think about the resources, entertainment, income, and comfort accompanied by having access to the internet and other social platforms. If you need food, you can order it through an app. If you need directions, your phone will provide step-by-step instructions. Want to connect with your friends or family? You can call, text, or engage with them via social media. The internet has become the necessary resource we need access to for functional and efficient lives.
According to AllConnect.com, one in three people experiencing homelessness do not have regular access to the internet at all. Finding a job, medical care, and access to benefits like social security, unemployment, food stamps, and Medicaid are all completed mostly online, which means the very resources needed to help alleviate and end the hardship of homelessness are not readily accessible to the people who need them.
It is not difficult to understand how important technology and connectivity are to our daily lives. Understanding the problem is one piece of the puzzle in attempting to solve it.
Here’s what’s currently being done on national and local levels to help provide connectivity access to people experiencing homelessness:
1. FREE PHONES: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) developed a Lifeline Program for low-income consumers that offers people in need the opportunity to access the safety benefits accompanied by having a phone for little or no cost. Eligibility for this program includes having Income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or if you qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, and more.
2. FREE CHARGING SPOTS: “New York City has addressed the issue with “LinkNYC,” the first of its kind communication network. It replaced pay phones across its five boroughs with new structures called Links. Each Link provides fast, free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, device-charging, and a tablet for access to city services, maps, and directions. In Los Angeles, some retailers have installed Chargeitspot™, a commercial product that provides free, on-site charging…” (Rand.org)
3. WIFI/CONNECTIVITY SERVICES: Corporations have provided internet access and products, by partnering with organizations that help people transition into stable housing. Cisco recently connected with PATH to fund wiring costs, Wi-Fi access, and internet services for 12 months for every resident at Villas on Park (a permanent supportive housing development). Partnerships like this help provide the necessary tools to connect and support people with needed resources as they transition into secure and stable housing.
As we continue investing in ending homelessness in our communities, we must remain mindful of the unique needs that help provide the strongest support. There is still a GREAT need for awareness on how lack of internet access is affecting people experiencing homelessness. Funding initiatives and programs that help support connectivity efforts will also need to be increased.
These resources can help significantly increase access to opportunities for social capital within our communities.
Connection is one tool we can all help provide in our shared goal of "ending homelessness one load at a time."