A lot of the homeless folks I work with—especially those who have been homeless for a long time, are older, or come from extreme poverty—cannot navigate the web in a way that they need to. Everything is web-driven now; apartment searching, job hunting, and applying for basic assistance -- all require rudimentary websurfing abilities, yet it seems so many clients I meet do not have a current email address. I’ve made it a point to ask people about their email understanding now, and if they don’t have an email, we go over to a web-based email site, and we create one together(I would suggest this to ANY case manager or outreach worker). This way, I can send email reminders about appointments, update people, and ask them how they are doing if I want to follow up. Sure, they may need assistance to retrieve the emails I send them, but at least we have basic reliable communication set up.
When I think about the essential nature of technology in today’s world, I can’t help but be curious as to what service providers are doing to bridge this growing technological gap. Basically, if you want to have people transition from street life, they need access to computers, and they need the skills to use them. Check out this story by Tech Vibes:
I definitely utilized my net skills to get off the street, but I was an exception to the rule, because I have always been on the geeky side. In the early nineties I used to go down to our local library and use what was called “Freenet.” These were green-screened, text-based portals to the early web—it was GOPHER and USENET at that time. I knew more about the Internet than a large part of the public then, and I capitalized on it:
One day I was out on the corner with some nice clothes on and a stack of resumes in my hand, carrying a sign that said "Ask me for a resume." A fellow came up and asked if I knew about the Internet. I said yes, and he asked if I wanted to help his company get online. I agreed, and began to work as a contractor for a new company called “Carmanah Technologies." I went to their computers and set up Eudora mail, introduced them to USENET, and showed them how to link themselves with the fledgling network of engineers, scientists, and business people who were working on the same problems they were. Readers that are from around here will laugh because that company went on to become a wildly successful publicly traded corporation:
I worked for them for about a month, and the president at the time asked me “so, are you going to school or anything?” I said I wasn’t(of course, now I wish I had said yes, lol).
But I digress. The point is, my technological savvy has allowed me to far exceed the expected success for somebody coming from the background I came from, and the people that currently suffer in extreme poverty are no different. Many homeless people are untapped sources of ideas, inspirations, and new perspectives. When this culture (that is, mainstream North American culture) comes to realize this potential, we will ALL be a lot further ahead. I have often said that the thinkers, the poets, and the dreamers of today have been pushed to the margins through crisis circumstances.
Not only have homeless people been intellectually discarded, they are having a harder time getting basic needs met. Many are so far behind that it will take a year to get back on the techno-bandwagon. Computers were essential tools 20 years ago, they are life and death now, and if service providers want to help, they need to realize this growing need. All shelters need to be WIFI, and supportive housing units should come with a built in PC, not a TV as I so often see. If clients want to use their PC to watch movies, they can do that, but let them also have a window to the world. Even if the only thing a client ever does is talk to their family on a social network site, at least they are addressing their loneliness, which is one of the biggest hurdles in transitional recovery. It’s time that the service providers step up and employ the tools that are out there: see technological development as an essential service for homeless clients. Check out my new wellness wheel, incorporating technological development as an essential area of personal growth:
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