By Moe Clark: Complete Post through this link…
A lack of internet access and charging stations makes it challenging for unhoused folks to maintain a working cellphone, posing a threat to their safety and ability to follow up with service providers or connect with employers.
As the sun started to set one early October day in Denver, nearly 100 people gathered by the side of Denver’s City Hall for Mutual Aid Monday, a weekly event for unhoused people to get hot food, camping gear, haircuts, and clothes. People sprawled on the grass to eat and chat as ’90s R&B music played from speakers on a table labeled the “Dork Energy Station,” which included a portable cellphone charging station—the latest addition to the weekly outreach event.
“We are out here to raise awareness for a permanent fix,” says Susan Law, a 37-year-old lawyer and volunteer at the event. “People need their phones.”
The idea for the charging station had been sparked a few weeks prior by Law’s friend, Kevin Campbell, at a mental health awareness meet-up in a park, called Dork Dancing. “He said, you know, the music is great, but it would be even better if folks could charge up at the same time,” Law recalled. Now, volunteers have around 30 chargers for people to use during Mutual Aid Monday as part of their pilot program, and they hope to one day install permanent charging stations around the city.
Cellphones can be a lifeline for unhoused people to be able to access critical services, stay connected to support systems, remain up to date on current events, and find upward mobility. But locating outlets to charge them, especially throughout the pandemic, has been a challenge. Many also struggle to pay their monthly phone bill, and phones can easily be lost, broken, or stolen while living on the streets—which can set people back by making it more challenging for them to follow up with service providers or potential employers.
“People tend to be able to access cellphones,” says Benjamin Henwood, a professor at the University of Southern California who directs the Center for Homelessness, Housing and Health Equity Research. “The problem is keeping the phones active.”
It’s estimated that over half of unsheltered people own cell phones, according to research by Henwood and others. But turnover—meaning the phones were lost or stolen within three months—was high.