An ODPM [Office of the Deputy Prime Minister] spokesman said having an e-mail address could be the first step to finding a permanent place to live, by enabling people to receive information about long-term living places while moving between hostels.

ODPM minister Jim Fitzpatrick said such a move would also help bridge the UK’s “digital divide”.

The report, entitled Inclusion Through Innovation: Tackling Social Exclusion Through New Technologies, also says IT can help disadvantaged elderly people stay in touch with friends and relatives.

And it cites the example of mobile phones being used by homeless people to avoid the stigma of not having a permanent address by leaving a mobile number on job application forms.

This turned out to be an interesting article and a useful proposal — with the original headline being stupid. It focussed on the speed of access rather than “having” access.

Homelessness charity Crisis has backed the report. Its Christmas Internet Cafe was accessed by around 100 people a day and was cited as an example of how web access can help the homeless.

The charity is developing a “virtual life portfolio”, which will enable homeless people to store important documents and certificates they may need to help them claim benefits, medical help or get a job.

Chris Askew, Crisis’ director of fundraising, said: “Having a mobile phone or access to the internet means that homeless people do not need to put their lives on hold.

“Despite not having an address they can still access the help and support they need or get into work and training.”

A spokesman for homeless charity Shelter said: “Technology can make it easier for homeless people to access the services they need.

I give most of my old geek “stuff” and office equipment to a local shelter for battered women. I’ll have to find out if they have Web access.



  1. Miguel Lopes says:

    Now this is an excellent idea that hasn’t ocurred to me… While I doubt the first priority of someone who has no food would be to get his/her email, it may turn out to be positive somehow.

    In any case I’d try to increse spending in construction of houses and shelters for these unfortunate folks.

    Another question – anyone has any idea on how to avoid abuse of this resource by the less needy?

  2. Damian says:

    I scrolled all the way down this page. Now *where* is the big tech story of the moment?

    Sony is rootkitting people’s PCs:

    http://blogs.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2005/11/sony_raids_hack.html

    http://www.sysinternals.com/blog/2005/10/sony-rootkits-and-digital-rights.html

    Give ’em hell, John.

  3. O..k., I’ll be the curmudgeon. If homeless shelters in England are anything like they are in the U.S., the idea of having computers and giving homeless people cellphones and e-mail addresses reminds me of the old saw, give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach him to fish, you feed him for life. Except in this case, it’s teach him how to conduct brain surgery…

    Let’s be real. Most of these people are desperate, under-educated, malnourished, and confused. A lot are also the folks we used to lock up in state mental institutions, which were so horrid, we decided it was better to dump them on the streets.

    So we’re going to give them technological solutions? Build better shelters, provide real job training, have the state provide real jobs for a limited time so they can get both experience at the job and how to hold and keep a job. Offer them good, ongoing counseling. Feed them decent meals. Create day-care centers for their kids so they actually can work. Help those who want and can get better educated.

    This so-called solution is like fixing the leak in your roof just before the hurricane hits.

    No wonder people think we liberals are nuts. We often are.

  4. Eideard says:

    Mark — my take on the article we linked to is that the folks running shelters discovered homeless folk were buying those throwaway cell phones on their own to help themselves get jobs — by having a phone number for prospective employers to respond to. You might not want to fill out an employment form and put down “call St. Elizabeth’s and ask for Dave!”

    Once they realized this, it wasn’t terribly difficult to figure that maybe having web access at the shelter — to check the local job market — and having an email address for an employer to respond to might be just as helpful.

    I think we’re all agreeing about providing some of the tools for fishing.

  5. meetsy says:

    It will be a long time coming for the homeless in this country (namely California). The homeless shelters seem to do whatever they CAN to keep the homeless, homeless and jobless.
    One local women’s homeless shelter that a friend of mine ended up in…didn’t have computers for the “occupants”, only for the staff. They had no child care so that a woman could seek work, go to interviews, etc.. There were required daily meetings (which could not be skipped…or you’d be banished to the streets) that precluded a day job, and the night curfew was 9pm (so no retail work or night work). Althought the shelter received generous government grants and reduced “rent” (in a large church’s ex-nunnery) the food provided was the cheapest possible (most women gained weight on the fat and starch diet). The city library, right down the street, would not allow use of the computers (if given a “residence address” of the shelter) but instead require a $50 deposit to obtain a library card. Oh, and there was a change of administration rules, and they could not USE the shelter address to receive mail, other than state assistance checks.
    Once I heard this nonsense….I moved her into my house and with free use of the computer, she applied for over 100 jobs, and had 15 interviews, and was offered 5 jobs. She worked a month, had enough for a deposit on an apartment, found childcare, and moved out.
    There is no doubt, that now…a year later, she would still be IN the system if she had stayed in the shelter.
    So, this computer concept makes total sense….(as employers post more jobs on the web now than in newspapers) but until the homeless are served in ways that help, and not quasi-institutionalize nd demoralize them….not much can change. It’s a shame that the directors of some of these “shelters” make six figures and create rules that serve the staff, but not the people they claim to want to help.
    By large, if people get HELP when they NEED HELP, they do not try and get back at the system by getting services they don’t really need, or as Miquel put it: “avoid abuse of this resource by the less needy”.

  6. Ryan Vande Water says:

    I am all for the idea as long as all of the emails are from the domain: wherever.com

    So, you’d have john.smith@wherever.com.

  7. RTaylor says:

    The homeless are not comprised of just substance abusers. I grant you they are often the most visible. You don’t see the indivduals and families living in shelters and looking for work. Many working poor are a few pay checks from being homeless. Many of the homeless has a serious mental illness. Having an electronic mail box could aid in getting them essential services, and provide a contact for family that may be able to help. This is very cheap compared to shelter and food, even if it helps a small percentage.

  8. meetsy says:

    Mark,
    do yourself a big favor…to volunteer at a shelter….be it a men’s shelter, a women and children’s shelter, a family shelter….and get to know those tht you cast the jaundiced eye towards.
    Sure there ARE some crazies….as our mental health system is terrible, and many mentally ill “self medicate” which only makes it worse. But, many of the real crazies do not frequent shelters (they don’t like the rules and often don’t get along with others). The shelter life is rather difficult to maneuver, and it’s very complicated. The people who are living in shelters, especially the families, are people who have had the rug pulled out from under them. Many of our working poor people live one pay check away from the street. An accident, sudden illness, or tragedy takes away the most basic thing in life…shelter. With a LOT of the unskilled and manual labor jobs going to illegal aliens (who will work cheaper than minimum wage) these are people who have no other option but to move into shelters to survive.
    Go volunteer for a weekend. Go talk to some of these folks…you’ll find that they aren’t who you think they are.

  9. Don says:

    I work at a no-profit community agency (okay, Goodwill Industries) and we provide a computer resource center for those who care to walk in. We also provide help creating email addresses, resumes, connections to employment sites and voice mail on out phone system.

    Sure, many of those who come in don’t have much hope, but there are a lot of others who have just had a string of hard luck — and sometimes only two or three closely spaced misfortunes are enough to put the working poor out on the street.

    We don’t feed them and we don’t house them, but we sure see the value in providing them the tools to help get back in the job market.

    I applaud this initiative.

  10. John Schumann says:

    I worked at Nintendo in Redmond, Wa for a while as a electronics tech. One of my supervisors told me he had lived in his car for 6 months before he got a job there. There’s an example of someone who might have found the services handy.

  11. Janey James says:

    This is, afterall, the information age. People have the equivalent of sensory deprivation if they do not have access to the internet. While much more is needed to pull oneself out of that cycle of poverty, timely access to what IS available could make a life-changing difference for someone.

  12. Meetsy, if you’re still checking this site, I never intended to cast a jaundiced eye at those in shelters. I said, “desperate, under-educated, malnurished, and confused,” which many are–as any of us would be in those circumstances. If you re-read what I suggested people should do, you’ll I’m anything but unsympathetic to their plight.

    Eidieard, I stand corrected on the cell phone issue. Thanks!

  13. meetsy says:

    Mark,
    I over reacted. I’m sorry.
    But, really, there aren’t that many crazies in the shelters. They do prefer the street. The more visible are more agressive, quasi-criminal, crazed and usually drug addicted. Those are the street dwellers. The shelters are, depending on which shelter (and it’s criteria for housing), are people who could have been your neighbors. You find people from all walks of life. A lot of well educated people, too. Most in shelters are just weary and hopeless. After a while they really just give up. The system wears them out.
    I wish used the UK system where each city, town and village provided council houses for the “homeless”. People need a place to call home, and the shelters are anything BUT….


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