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Business - Written by on Sunday, February 8, 2009 17:22 - 1 Comment

The homeless cell phone user

My next area of inquiry in exploring how digital interconnectedness can be enhance quality of life in areas that aren’t typically top-of-mind: cell phone use among homeless youth.

There’s no question that homeless youth, like mainstream youth,

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see a cell phone as a necessity. I’ve spoken to youth shelter workers who have told me that they receive countless calls from bill collectors. Why? The only contact number the youth have to give their service provider is the number for the front desk at the shelter.

What’s interesting to consider is that a cell phone might be far more important to a homeless youth than mainstream youth. Consider being in a job interview and not being able to provide a number at which the potential employer can reach you. Would you want to give the number for the shelter you’re staying at? That probably won’t help you land the job.

There are clear benefits in terms of accessing health information as well. A street kid probably isn’t getting the same health info (for example, STI awareness) as is the kid who gets that spiel at school, not to mention being able to Google any health concern to find a wealth of info on the topic of choice. Shelter operators may consider building a database of the phone numbers of past and present shelter users. The operator could easily text or send a service announcement (of sorts) to hundreds of in-need youth within seconds. The content of the message might be related to anything from STI education, to who in the city is looking for manual laborers, to a notification of when the next meal will be served at the shelter.

Beyond these day-to-day messages, a cell phone could prove to be an important life line, connecting the youth to emergency services. We all proclaim the safety benefits of carrying a cell phone. Who is more likely to be in an emergency situation that requires police or ambulance? The typical middle-class person, or the street kid who is faced with a myriad of health risks and surrounded by a culture of drugs and violence?

Food, clothes, and shelter are clearly any street youth’s top priorities. But let’s condsider how health, safety, and employment outlooks might be augmented by realizing the benefit that basic cell phone technology can have for homeless youth.

Please do share your perspective and related experience!



1 Comment

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Don Watkins
Feb 8, 2009 20:18

I agree with much of what you’ve written, but how does a homeless person afford a cell phone in the first place. I suppose a cell phone is less than an apartment. Cell phones are certainly re-defining place or the absence of defined places once deemed a necessity.

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