For those who can afford it, a cellphone is a handy essential. But for someone who's homeless, it can be a lifeline, a way to stay safe and connected to people who can help anywhere and at any time.
Improving access to technology for those who are vulnerable isn’t a new idea. It's been suggested for many years that a cellphone is an essential tool and is an issue of social equality: for those who don't have a computer, Wi-Fi or a mobile phone, it's nearly impossible to get a job, connect to critical health and social services or reach out for help when in danger.
Harry, a new client of Haven Toronto, lives alone on the streets. He is scared to stay in shelters because of the threat of COVID-19 and has trouble sleeping outside because he fears for his safety. Since becoming homeless, Harry has suffered from severe depression and sleep apnea.
A few nights ago, while he slept on a grate, Harry was robbed of everything he owned- his cell phone and his personal identification.
In response, crisis counsellors at Haven Toronto gave him a donated phone from Telus that he could use free of charge.
“That intervention alone made his day and he left here beaming,” said Barry Tierney, nurse at Haven Toronto. “He could use his phone to get his life back together. A phone which he is lucky to be literate enough to use, something we often take for granted.”
Access to a phone provides staff a way to connect with a client virtually which is important as clients who don’t have access to technology often fall through the health care cracks, explained Tierney.
The pandemic has placed a greater sense of urgency on providing vulnerable people access to phones and technology. For individuals who are testing for COVID-19, it is imperative that healthcare workers can reach them with their results.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Andrea Somers and her colleagues at Toronto General Hospital have been collecting and giving out phones to patients who are phoneless, according to an article by CTV News.
"These people need to be connected to our health care system, and they need access to all sorts of social and medical resources that you can't reach during a pandemic if you're not connected,” said Dr. Somers, as told to CTV reporters.
Jasmine and Nicolas Rocci, a sibling duo from Hamilton, have started Care Through Tech, an initiative that collects donated cellphones and tablets for vulnerable people with hopes they can make and keep up with medical appointments and participate in telehealth.
“We know that a lot of these people without stabilized housing also don’t have access to technology like we do, so we wanted to make sure that they’re getting proper access to health care,” said Jasmine, an immunology major to embark on public health graduate work, as stated in an article from the Hamilton Spectator.
The pair offer a pickup service for donations in various areas including Toronto, Hamilton, and Niagara, every Saturday and Sunday. The donations are shared through the Shelter Health Network to organizations serving a high risk population.
What many people consider an obsolete piece of technology that is often thrown away in a junk drawer somewhere, can often be a lifeline for those without a home.
One small act can make one big difference in a day, in a life.
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