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The article doesn't say as much as I wish it did about actual impact on the day to day lives of homeless people.

For me, internet access while homeless was a means to keep myself occupied so I wouldn't go crazy, a means to have social contact and meaningful discussion even though I wasn't very presentable, a means to do research to problem solve, access to online banking and other financial stuff, access to reward programs that helped keep me fed and so much more. Having a virtual life made a huge difference in my quality of life while homeless and eventually helped me get back into housing, in part by leading to earned income, in part by allowing me to find a place I could afford.

This was vastly different from the homeless people I saw sitting at the park all day doing nothing while their social skills, self esteem and self image deteriorated and their only means to make money seemed to be recycling and pan handling.

With internet access, a cell phone and mailing address, being homeless is much less of a hardship than if you have none of those. You aren't simply cut off from society, news, information and the power to make plans and build a future.

I don't know how to express how incredibly empowering the internet can be for a homeless person. I always thought of it as if it were a kind of magic. It helped me feel like a whole person. It kept hope alive by keeping options open in a way that simply wasn't previously possible.

Today, a homeless person can go online and look for information and communities for van dwellers, digital nomads, remote work and other things of that ilk that open up the opportunity to see yourself as simply living an alternative lifestyle rather than being straight up a social outcast. That makes taking adequate care of yourself so much more feasible and makes a path back to a more conventional life vastly more navigable, even if you don't qualify for any programs, many of which are aimed at specific populations, like addicts or single parents.

This actually poses an interesting idea I haven't seen previously discussed: Providing internet access and cell phones to the homeless as a way to help get them integrated back into society. Do you think this would be a cost effective program, relative to others?

Ideally, I think it needs a bit more support, like a class or information packet or link to one or more websites to help clue them about some things.

It takes time to develop an online income or do research to find a cheaper place to live etc. Long term solutions don't happen overnight. While working on them, people who are destitute still need other services to stay fed, clothed, etc.

But I think it is a lightweight means to support long term goals that many programs currently actively undermine. If you have to stand in line for two hours to get a free meal and do this three times a day to stay adequately fed, it's incredibly hard to job hunt, research what other services exist, etc.

A phone with internet service can potentially allow you to work on things like that while standing in line at a soup kitchen.

Even without the additional support that I would like to see, just having a phone number makes it easier to do things like job hunt. This is critical to getting your life back. Standing in line at soup kitchens keeps body and soul together. It doesn't help you find your way back to a middle class life. It can actively be a barrier to finding your way back.

So, yes, I think it has a lot of potential. A lot of current programs intended to help homeless people get back on their feet aren't terribly effective from what I gather and are much more resource intensive.

As an aside, there is a certain kind of mentality that, upon seeing a homeless person with a phone, declares that the person isn't really homeless or doesn't actually need any assistance. Such homeless would have to be careful to keep them hidden, lest other programs get reduced because people see that these homeless people are actually wealthy.

The most extreme example of this I even came across was someone saying that refugees, escaping the Libyan civil war, were clearly fraudulent because they had phones. There's some kind of unconscious assumption that having a phone indicates a high-level of wealth.

This is a very illuminating post that I will remember when speaking about net neutrality, modern rights I think we should have (internet access), and how someone may find their way out of homelessness (if they desire).

Thank you for this.

Pop into r/homeless some time. For the price of a reddit handle and the time it took to post a question, I have seen several people avoid or delay eviction, find solutions that kept them off the street after they announced "I shall be homeless in X period of time" or announce they finally got themselves off the street through their own efforts.

I occasionally think it has to be one of the cheapest and most effective homeless services on the planet. And it's just a free discussion forum.

I see these results in spite of it attracting trolls, judgey middle class assholes who are there to lecture homeless people, and people who clearly have serious issues and can't manage to behave in a pro-social fashion. Amidst all the muck, lives are quietly being kept from suddenly unraveling and other lives are being slowly knit back together.

That's the power of the internet. It fosters lightweight solutions that couldn't happen any other way, including crowd sourcing wisdom and practical advice.

I love it.

Great and illumimating comment . Thanks for sharing. Is there some easy way for me to contribute to more of this?

Support your local library.

Answer questions in online forums.

Point people to online resources, including some of my websites. Among other things, I blog about homelessness as a lightweight means to empower the powerless.

Pass out cards with URLs to homeless people and tell them where they can get internet access and electricity. When I was first homeless, it was news to me that you can get free Wi-Fi at the library.

Give away cheap wiped smart phones or tablets to homeless individuals.

Contribute to online resources that curate information, such as where to find Wi-Fi.

Give homeless people Starbucks gift cards so they can get a coffee and get online and plugged in.

"Give away cheap wiped smart phones or tablets to homeless individuals"

That seems easy enough. Challenge accepted. I'm seriously going to buy to a few cheap data capable burner android phones to hand out to people that are asking me for money. Giving them cash instead has the obvious downsides.

If you can figure out how to start them with a few bookmarks, let me suggest you consider pointing people to one or more of the following sites:




They happen to be my sites.

Oh, and r/homeless, which is not mine.

You are making one of my fantasies come true. I dreamed of establishing such programs when I was still homeless. So thank you.

That's a fantastic idea. After you wipe the phone, there should be a git repo of links and docs that can be loaded on the phone.

The "Doreen phone" should totally be a thing.

Even taking it a step further...

There could be a custom Android ROM specifically tailored to the challenges and specific processes of homelessness. Like an offline map of free hotspots, or offline maps pre-downloaded already. Settings tailored for maximum battery life. A contact book pre-loaded with important hotlines, resources, etc. Things like that. I’m sure the customizations could get very creative and useful.

This is actually an idea I’ve been toying with over the past year as I’ve made friends with some homeless people around my building and they tell me about their troubles.

I have fantasized about there being things like homeless maps since I took a class on homelessness, well before becoming homeless. I have also fantasized for years about there being something like what was called a Doreen phone in the comment above.

So, here is your Github repo: https://github.com/DoreenMichele/Phone

I have no idea what I am doing on GitHub. Apologies in advance for my lack of technical chops.

I will add that my lack of technical chops means custom Android ROM is a new concept for me and sounds like an excellent way to solve the additional support element that I commented on elsewhere. I never could think of a good way to do that because ideally I would like the phone itself to provide some of that information while also pointing to other resources. I just didn't know how that could be done.

If some organization was distributing this kind of device, I'd donate.

Los Angeles, at least, has Obama Phones they give to anyone. I've seen the tables everywhere.

Those appear to only be cell phones, not smart phones. They allow phone access, but they do not appear to provide internet access. You also need to have an address to qualify.


There is also an application process. While homeless, it was such a godsend whenever someone just gifted me something I needed, no hoop jumping required.

Here's another concrete example I saw recently: https://twitter.com/CharlieBinbags/status/974936532896370688

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