Bridging the Digital Divide
The world is evolving at speeds that many can’t keep up with. Computer technology is dominating all aspects of society from medicine and science to education and employment. And if anyone in a state of poverty and homelessness expects to climb out of that pit of despair, they will undoubtedly need access to much of that technology. The disheartening thing about that is that for the most part, computer technology costs lots of money and is basically a luxury for those who can afford it. Having little to no income is hard enough when you’re trying to just survive day to day, feeding and clothing yourself, securing transportation, paying for medicine, and all of the other little human necessities that middle-class and wealthy people take for granted. This basic daily survival process leaves little room for anything else beyond just maintaining, but there are those who want more for themselves and there are tools out there that can help them with their goals of reentering society to become productive and self-sufficient. The question is: How does a depressed and impoverished homeless person with all odds against him find and secure the capital to acquire these tools?
As someone who has suffered from chronic homelessness myself from the age of 15, I can definitely relate to these problems. Homelessness does not discriminate against anyone. Everyone is a potential victim and can be thrust into a life of poverty overnight and without warning. The common factor in all cases of homelessness and poverty is that everyone who has experienced it is human. That is the only prerequisite. And many people tend to forget that about homeless people. Regardless of our circumstances and appearances, we are human first. Despite what many uninformed people may believe, mental illness and drug addiction are not the only factors that lead to homelessness. Most would be quite surprised to hear the many different stories and tragedies people have suffered that led them into poverty and homelessness. Being injured on a job, losing a lawsuit, divorce, and child abandonment are just a few other examples of how everyday people without mental illness, criminal backgrounds or addictions can easily have their lives spontaneously transformed from wealth and comfort to poverty and hopelessness. But everyone who does deal with the challenges of poverty and homelessness isn’t hopeless. Many of us haven’t completely been broken and are very strong-willed and motivated. No one wants to be or chooses to be poor and without a place to call home. No one asks for this lifestyle. But just like cancer or racism, homelessness can be unpredictable and should be treated as a condition that must be fought to overcome. What makes it such a difficult battle for so many is that they just don’t have the proper tools to fight with. Smartphones and laptops have the ability to help everyone in society stay in touch and find the resources they need to sustain and thrive. We search for jobs, type up resumes, and fill out applications online. We find directions and plan trips online. We find contact information and make appointments online or by phone. We retrieve our messages and voicemail the same way. These tools seem to be indispensable and necessary for just a basic and decent quality of life. But for many if not most poor and homeless people, these resources are often unavailable and out of reach.
I’ve discussed with a number of homeless citizens of Washington, D.C., the effects that the “Digital Divide” plays upon their day to day life. In the following weeks, I plan to bring to you a diverse multitude of stories that touch on the experiences of a number of homeless residents who were brave enough to share how their lives have been negatively impacted from the lack of access to basic computer technology. I hope that these stories will inspire you to get involved and contribute to the few but gracious nonprofits in our area that are dedicated to bringing computer technology and education to the homeless community in our local cities.
Monsoor Ali is a freelance journalist, a homeless DC resident, and a homeless advocate and activist based in Washington, D.C.