To be homeless with an iPad appears flat-out bizarre, an unlikely duo but with 1.6 million homeless young adults in the US, amazingly a growing percentage of them own some sort of mobile gadgetry including a smartphone or tablet.
The USC School of Social Work’s study reveals 62% of homeless teens have mobile phones in order to stay in touch with others, current or potential employees, shelter services and for food programs.
For the homeless, mobile devices are not viewed as being a tool for recreation or a status symbol, but a survival device. The media talks about teens, young adults, moms and even senior citizens engaging in social media, but little is ever discussed around the homeless and how they are using digital technology such as mobile or social media.
People turn to Facebook to post their gripes; they receive support and advice from friends and others who can relate. For the homeless, social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and even email are used to maintain life-saving connections. For the homeless, a simple cellphone can be a vital link to a family member, support group, employment and housing opportunities, and is a way to build a community out of the isolation, ruin and despair that accompanies homelessness.
Having access to digital technology from gadgets to Wifi can be viewed much like drinking water, it’s only when becomes scarce does it become something of value. Take a person from California and place him in Pakistan and he will quickly value bottled water.
This is much the same with digital technology and how it’s used among the homeless. A mobile phone offers the disenfranchised a cheap way to communicate, basic internet access can connect them to a wealth of information and resources.
In today’s world, being connected is difference between being ‘dead or alive,’ or flat out homeless! Just because one is physically homeless doesn’t mean he or she should be deprived from access to a mobile phone, internet or social media.
Homeless are turning to social media and finding equality, dignity and for some a way to improve their situation. Facebook provides a platform for people to not be judged and that includes the homeless.
David Brookes, 27 and homeless notes, “No one on the net cares if I brushed my teeth, showered or nor do they judge me by my clothes.“
“Being without a home is no biggie, but having connections to the rest of the world is pretty important,” says John Nasher, 25 who made his way to California by way of hitchhiking rides all the way from Boston.
Technology allows one to create our own homes. In so many ways technology is responsible for removing the 4th wall. Think about it. Business these days can be conducted anywhere from coffee shops, airports, hotels, even the bedroom. Is it important to know where the person is when you’re talking on Facebook, Skype or Twitter probably not?
I was inspired to write this piece as I reside in Hollywood, CA. Sadly, behind the lights, cameras and action, Hollywood has a huge number of homeless people that are young, dirt broke, unemployed and disenfranchised. Each day they sit near ATM, McDonalds, banks with some of the most creative signage all begging for money.
Thanks to Californian weather Hollywood is a major hub for the homeless who migrate from other parts of the US. I had the pleasure of interviewing several of these youngsters; I believe they understand what most people take for granted the essence and unlimited power of being connected!
While most people use their smartphones to text, download apps and streaming music or movies on-the-go, for the disenfranchised the most basic functions such as the ability to make a phone call proves to be the most important.
Ironically, in this ‘always on’ and connected world we live in one can debate if you’re not connected, the word ‘homeless’ takes on a whole new meaning.
Read more: Merck Gives Pro-Bono Aid to Homeless Heroes