Homeless Shelter Wi-Fi Transforms Residents

San Francisco, CA

A light bulb flashed in Darcel Jackson’s head one night, while lying in bed in a homeless shelter in San Francisco, that the greatest thing he could do for homeless people would be to connect them to the internet.

Having an instant link to the world wide web could help people like Jackson get jobs and find housing, reported KQED. The problem at the Next Door homeless shelter was that they didn’t have any computers making it extremely difficult to pull down current job boards or websites listing cheap rooms.

Next Door resident Wayne Samuelson, a former Marine, said that not having the internet puts you at a disadvantage with others in society.  “Everybody is wired up,” Samuelson says, “People are like, ‘Are you connected?’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean? Am I a gangster?’ Oh, Internet.”

Samuelson contends that technology is passing him by and he is out of the loop on the culture’s latest innovations. “About a month ago, I finally figured out what a selfie stick was,” he says. “I saw these people walking around with these sticks. Are they backscratchers? What the heck are people doing with the sticks?”

Jackson decided to put an end to homeless shelters being unequipped with technology tools to help the down and out improve their situations. After attending a town hall meeting on the plight of homeless people, presided over by a former tech company CEO, Gregg Gopman, Jackson realized he couldn’t participate because questions at the meeting needed to be submitted by smartphone. Not owning a phone Jackson concluded that the meeting was useless for him.

“It really wasn’t geared for homeless people,” he observed. “It was for people to pat themselves on the back about what they’d already been doing.”

When the meeting was over, Jackson told Gopman about his idea to install Wi-Fi in shelters to help the homeless help themselves. Gopman thought it was a great idea and sprung it on a local Internet provider, MonkeyBrains.  The San Francisco ISP donated time and equipment costing about $6,000.

Residents of the shelter with their own smartphones, tablets or other devices can search job boards now, get services, and talk to friends and family, reported KQED. On top of that, Jackson stays in touch with his child more often. “I’ve got an 8-year-old son,” he says. “Facebook is the way we communicate.”

Marine veteran Wayne Samuelson says that the Wi-Fi connection at Next Door changed his life when he got a job by checking Craigslist at the homeless shelter. Moreover, he sees the new connection with technology as a culturally broadening experience. “I hear them talking. ‘Do you have any movies on your phone? Well, show me because I want to watch some movies.’ It brings joy into a very dull and mundane life,” he explained.