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For homeless, mobiles are a lifeline

Thu, Oct 11, 2012

Mobile phones are much more than a luxury for people living on the streets; they can literally be a life line. Without a postal address or landline, mobiles often are the most effective way for health care workers or career advisors to get in touch. And with smart phones becoming more cheaply available, the opportunities for homeless people to re-connect with society grow even further.

His daughter is in the hospital and is about to die. Her blood work shows she has diabetes but does not know it. He has finally landed a job if he can start later today. She might get a job if she can interview tomorrow morning. The river’s about to flood his campsite. She just got assaulted and robbed and needs help.

These are circumstances that the homelessness can face each day, and without access to a mobile phone, such individuals may not get the information or help they need in time. Health care providers, career counselors and those living on the streets say that having access to a mobile phone is essential for the homeless.

Federal and state governments have also long recognized mobile phone access as a need for those experiencing homelessness and poverty. Governments have teamed up with major cell phone service providers to offer free or low-cost cell phones to people with low incomes under the Lifeline Assistance Program. The Universal Service Fee that cell phone subscribers pay on their monthly bills covers the costs of the program, which was set up under a 1996 federal law. To qualify for a free mobile phone with 250 free minutes and 250 free SMS text messages, an applicant needs to show that his or her income falls below 35 percent above the federal poverty guidelines or that he or she is receiving other federal benefits such as SSI or food stamps.

“People shouldn’t have to face the decision to pay for phone service or pay for food,” said Jack Pflanz, spokesperson for Assurance Wireless, one of the providers of the Lifeline Assistance Program in Tennessee. “In today’s society, I think it is essential that someone experiencing homelessness has access to phone service.”

Critics of the homeless contend that an individual should be doing everything they legally can to bring in more income in order to ‘get back on their feet.’ For many, this means securing additional employment, a task that is particularly challenging in its own right but which can be further complicated by the lack of regular access to a phone.

Unfortunately, most potential employers are not particularly understanding about the life circumstances of homeless people. Regardless of their housing status, these employers expect employees or potential employees to be available on short-term notice to complete interviews or show up for work. Most employers also expect employees to have his or her own phone number where he or she can be reached and can receive a message, according to local career trainers and counselors.

Yet another reason that having access to a mobile phone can be essential to someone experiencing homelessness is that a phone enables more immediate access to medical care.

“Phone service is important for maintaining health,” Pflanz at Assurance Wireless said. “Customers need to be in contact with doctors, clinics and drug stores to be able to get their prescriptions,” he said.

Written by Jesse Call,
The Contributor

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