From access to the Internet and communications (like a cell phone) to the opportunity to learn basic computer skills - technology is a requirement in our daily lives. Unfortunately for someone experiencing homelessness, limited access to technology is a huge barrier to establishing stability and escaping poverty.
For May’s Conscious SF meetup we sat down at our host Hanson Bridgett with a panel of incredible local speakers who work on the frontline of poverty alleviation and empower others with access to technology.
Julie Berlin, Manager of the Tenderloin Tech Lab, St. Anthony Foundation, shared three top reasons members of their Tech Lab say where access to Internet is most impactful in their lives: staying connected with family and friends, job search, and finding a safe place to sleep.
Kristin Keller Assistant Director, Compass Family Resource and Test Program Coordinator at The Neighborhood Nest, adds how important access to telephones is for families in their programs:
“We see families come in every day to use stationary phones to be able to coordinate with family, their children’s schools, and follow up on job applications. Accessing and coordinating resources is one of the largest needs (for a phone) - for example to stay on our shelter waitlist you have to call in once a week to re-confirm. Younger clients come in to use wifi on their phones - and will fill out 25 page housing applications. Things we take for granted when we have access to computers.”
Jen Padgett, CEO, Community Technology Alliance touches on how best to approach designing and developing mobile technology for people experiencing homelessness:
“It’s important to consider the audience and engage the audience to help you in the development process. The biggest issues we see when we’re developing something (working with service providers and the homeless community) is making sure it’s a simple workflow to get the info you’re trying to get. With developing an app within our Mobile4All program we asked the homeless population what their pain points are with mobile technology: a way to easily navigate the phone, a way to navigate to services, and a way to easily pay their bill.”
Julie Berlin’s final ask is for us to be leaders:
“Access and service for all! You have to have access to the thing but also having the education and service to use it...Where you can influence, educate or simply ask the influencers - you’re a leader and I challenge you to take this and make a difference. Start now and get involved in whatever way works for you.”
What you can do
What is our role in in helping to give more access to technology homeless people? From our panelists, here are 9 things you can do right now:
- Commit long-term to a nonprofit’s technology need - go beyond the weekend hack.
- Be an advocate in your company for hiring people transitioning out of homelessness and graduating from local nonprofit technology education programs.
- Donate devices like computers or cellphones, or host your own device drive at your company.
- Make sure those devices are ready for use! How does a nonprofit implement or prepare technology donations you just donated?
- Be a connector for this community. Your network could be where someone finds their next job or home.
- Get involved with the Tech Lab at St. Anthonys
- Get involved with Compass Family Services
- Get involved with the Community Technology Alliance
- Contribute to a neighbor in need’s technology goal on HandUp
Listen to the full discussion in the video below, and sign up for the Conscious SF newsletter here.