“I speak to many homeless individuals, being one myself. One of the most pressing problems is our limited access to technology. Each individual seems to have limited ability to access technology at different levels.”
This comment by a former homeless individual reveals why Open Access Connections, with the support of community partners, released a report entitled “Envisioning an Internet Center for Homeless Individuals: One Group’s Quest to Reduce the Digital Divide. At a public meeting attended by a diverse group of people representing many organizations on June 20th at the Communication Workers Hall on Lake Street in Minneapolis, we outlined our vision for a community internet space for people who are homeless. We do not see this center as simply a place for individuals who are homeless or in transition to use computes, rather we see it as a community building space where individuals who are homeless can become more engaged with technology.
Key elements of the vision are that 1) the space will be run by and for individuals who are homeless and low income and that it will be collaborative and participatory; 2) the hours will be convenient for people who are homeless and in a location within walking distance to shelters; that people will be able to use the computers and internet access to meet their needs rather than be having restricted content that characterize many computer centers; people will feel at home at the center and will be a comfortable environment with couches, food, etc. will attain a comfort level at a rate that allows them to feel confident about learning how to use computers; people will skills from their peers; participants will be able to use the space to “tell their story” and to learn about public policy and actively be involved in civic engagement; and where they will feel more connected to society as a whole and with each other. The report included listening to the voices of people who are homeless through focus groups, interviews, and replying to surveys on the Open Access voice mail system. These voices of the homeless helped us create our vision for a community internet space.
At the July 20th event, Rebecca Orrick, the report author, who was a Research Assistant with the support of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, outlined her research and recommendations. Several videos enhanced the event so that participants could better understand the vision for bridging the digital divide. The following were presented at the event:
- The report: Envisioning an Internet Center for Homeless Individuals
- Appendices to report
- A Report powerpoint presentation by Rebecca Orrick describing the key points of the the report
- An audiotape of low income peoplewho responded to a survey about internet access through the Open Access Voice Mail system
- A video of participants in the Open Access netbook lending library talking about the skills and access of homeless people to computers and the internet.
- A video of an inquiry into the communications needs of people who are homeless by Dharma Dailey who came to Minnesota as part of a study for the Federal Communications Commission.
This importance of this effort to engage homeless and low income people in accessing the internet and computers is explained by Mignon Clyburn, Federal Communications Commissioner, who stated that “Knowing how to read is no longer sufficient to be “literate’ in the 21st Century. Basic literacy must be supplemented with digital literacy” when she addressed America’s Broadband summit on March 9, 2010.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF THIS EVENT:
THE FOLLOWING GROUPS SPONSORED THE JUNE 20th EVENT:
Open Access Connections, Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing, Main Street Project, Voices for Change, Center for Urban & Regional Affairs (CURA) of the University of Minnesota, Digital Inclusion Fund of the Minneapolis Foundation, Free Geek Twin Cities, Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, Trans Youth Support Network, PC After Hours, Alliance of the Streets, MESH (Metro-wide Engagement for Shelter and Housing)