Technology

I speak to many homeless individuals, being one myself. One of the most pressing problems is our limited access to technology. Each individual seems to have limited ability to access technology at different levels.

The preferred method of computing would be a notebook or netbook. Many shelters and service providers have WiFi enabled environments, but few of the homeless people have the laptops or devices to connect to them. Many of the shelters have older machines in varying states of use. Here is a photo of the currently unused computers at Simpson shelter:

Simpson's old shelter lab...

Not sure if the computer lab will ever get reopened. I think a persistent USB bootable system would avoid many of the administrative hassles associated with computing at shelters, but where are they going to get the flash drives?

As I have explained before, some places like Branch 3 have completely disabled the use of ports and peripherals. This makes job searching impossible.

Cash strapped non-profits and government centers continue to opt for Microsoft licenses, rather than explore Linux alternatives. This makes no sense to me. Although Linux may not fit every organization or agency, it would be an effective substitute at many places. Simpson church currently runs Ubuntu on its machines and I’ve been using them regularly. The Simpson Church lab is open from 1-6pm on Weds. & Thursday.

Other great places are coffee shops. Dunn Brothers policy of free refills means you can take your time, even if you should only be on for 20 minutes at a go (other customers need their time too).

The critical place is the library. Even with the new policies in place, the library is still one of the best places to access the internet.

Communications

Many people struggle to stay connected. Telephone access is a major problem.

I currently have a free voice mail account for job searching. I put the number on all my resumes. Unfortunately, I can only access the technology when a phone is available. Access to phones at Simpson’s occurs after 5:30 pm until 10:00 p.m. Sometimes you can access it during the morning. Most people are limited to 5 minutes, which is usually enough time to check your messages. Often times, I will go a few days before checking the messages. Many people play phone tag.

The phone at Branch 3 does not work at all. Therefore, there is no phone access at Branch 3. At St. Stephens, there is a phone in the job lab for checking messages and calling people. The usual work related restrictions apply. The same goes for the Workforce center.

Some people are spending insane sums of money on cell phones. The usual complaint, in addition to cost, is where to charge them. I dropped my cell phone plans years ago.

I use Skype. Unfortunately, with technology restrictions in place in most areas, it is impossible for me to access. I have a friend checking my messages. I will probably try to find a solution using my Knoppix USB flash disk. Most places seem to be “open” to a Plopboot manager boot/Knoppix USB combo. With a persistent drive, I should be able to access it eventually. I keep mentioning the needs homeless people have for USB drives (at least 4GB) to create persistent USB drives. I left copies of Knoppix, Linux Mint, and PlopBootmanager with Margaret at Branch 3. Unfortunately, she is still waiting for IT to fix it. (Even then, she has to deal with the lack of phone access and the dysfunctional printer.) The lab did not open on time. I hope it was just a snow day. I worry a bit that Margaret will either get frustrated or pushed out in trying to get the lab working. Margaret is the employment specialist dealing with the IT department.

Branch 3 contact info is:

740 East 17th Street Minneapolis, MN (612) 278-1120. I usually get breakfast there on weekdays.

I would very much like a wireless capable device (netbook, laptop, even I-touch). I had an I-touch in Los Angeles, but it was first generation. It did not have the microphone input for SKYPE/WIFI. I keep expecting to see some kind of cheap WiFi device with Skype that people can use as substitute cellphones. (Fits in a pocket and allows for internet calls, uses WiFi to avoid the costly charges).

Web blockers.

I also constantly run into barriers such as Web blockers which impair my ability to effectively do things like job searches. Invariably, the exceptions to the blockers have large enough holes in them, that people can find inappropriate content if they really want to, while preventing people from accessing legitimate sites.

Here are some photos of jobs I could not access. This site was called newsjobs.net.

Google Search for News Jobs

When I clicked on it, it came up blocked.

Blocked job site

I told them about the blocks, and they said they would unblock them. This takes time and is a hassle for everyone. The truth of the matter is, there will always be another site to unblock.

Of course, some homeless people are all decked out with nice laptops that they got on Craigslist or rebuilt themselves. As I mentioned before, many homeless people have great skills- artistically and technologically.

Many are also ardent gamers. I see people with PSPs and video games at the shelters. There are few shelters with gaming resources though. The occassional round of Battlefield Heroes could help one unwind after a long day of walking around.

2 Responses to “Technology”

  1. Congrats on a highly articulate and informative post that explains some issues I hadn’t thought of. And good luck getting through to those blocked sites like the one shown.

    Paul Zink
    Gloucester, Massachusetts

  2. impressive! I am curious if you choose to be homeless? You obviously have a lot to offer. I spend some time volunteering in homeless shelters and am over the stereotype, just curious about your personal path. Thanks for a very informative post!

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