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.
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.
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.
Thank you for this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The "Doreen phone" should totally be a thing.
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.
So, here is your Github repo:
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.
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.