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A Call For Help

Cellphones have become so central to our daily lives that most of us won’t leave home without one. From paying bills, talking with friends and family, shopping online and scheduling appointments, we manage all of our communications from a handy little device with an ease of a swipe.

But for people experiencing homelessness, a cellphone means much more, it’s a literal lifeline — a way to stay safe and connected with 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 a basic need and is an issue of social equality: for those who don't have a computer, Wi-Fi or a mobile phone, it's essentially impossible to get a job, connect to critical health and housing services, stay connected with family and friends, or reach out for help when in danger.

In an article for Mobledia, Kat Aschayara wrote about how important one homeless man’s Blackberry is to him: “On the surface, it’s his most important, practical tool. He can call places for work with it. He can call up shelters and other social services to see what’s available. He calls public transportation to find out which bus lines are running and check out schedules. E-mail and text is especially important. He can reach out to friends to see if he can crash with them for a night or two, especially if the weather is rough.”

In a study called “Mobile Phone, Computer, and Internet Use Among Older Homeless Adults”, researchers aimed to describe the access to and use of technology among a cohort of homeless adults over the age of 50 years. In terms of usage, they concluded that:

-30.7% of homeless senior phone owners made use of their phones to seek employment, housing, or both

-64.6% utilized them as a way of communicating with healthcare providers

-82.3% of participants in the study cited keeping in touch with family members as their main reason for investing in cell phones

Most importantly, holders of cell phones were proven to be more likely to acquire housing when compared to participants who lacked this basic need.

The pandemic has placed a greater sense of urgency on providing vulnerable people with access to phones and technology. In a time when people are experiencing a greater sense of isolation, it is critical that all community members have the means and the technology to stay connected.

Early in the pandemic, Haven Toronto, a drop-in centre in downtown Toronto, launched a program to provide clients – elder men impacted by poverty homelessness and isolation – with cell phones as a way to stay informed and connected. The program continues today.

The holidays and the new year are an important time for people to stay connected. It’s a time when isolation and loneliness are greatest, leading to an increased risk of depression and death by suicide.

Haven Toronto is the only drop-in centre in Canada dedicated to serving elder men age 50-plus.




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