VANCOUVER, BC: Vulnerable people, including people experiencing homelessness, will have better access to services through smartphones distributed by the social service organizations that support them.
“The need for internet connectivity has never been as important as it is right now. For people who are experiencing homelessness, the closing of public spaces like libraries due to COVID-19 has reduced connectivity options and created barriers to supports and services,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “Providing smartphones for people on the street will help create easier access to those services, help people maintain physical distancing, and support people in staying connected to family and friends during this time.”
Through the Homelessness Community Action Grant program and a partnership with 7-Eleven, the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC) has been able to secure 3,500 smartphones to be distributed by community organizations who provide services and support for vulnerable people.
The smartphones can connect to Wi-Fi and include a pre-loaded $10 7-Eleven data card, so people have instant access to internet. The smartphones provide vulnerable people better access to vital online resources and services, including arranging medication and safe supply delivery and virtual doctor meetings.
To date, 1,000 smartphones have been distributed, 200 of which will help ensure that people who transitioned from Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and are transitioning from Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park encampments in Victoria have access to basic communication and the connections they need as they move into safer temporary accommodations. SPARC BC will distribute the additional 2,500 smartphones to organizations and community response networks throughout the province.
“Access to basic communication plays a central role in how individuals are able to practise the physical distancing needed under COVID-19,” said Lorraine Copas, executive director, SPARC BC. “Through our partnerships with communities, it became clear that this was a gap in the system – a gap that we were able to fill in partnership with 7-Eleven, who helped us to secure the smartphones at cost.”
The Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative received 500 of the smartphones for low-income residents living in one of the 4,500 single room occupancy (SRO) hotel units in the area. Through DTES Response and Central City Foundation, many of these smartphones have been paired with SIM cards donated by TELUS to provide $0 rate plans including unlimited nationwide talk and text and three GB of data per month. In addition to these smartphones, Wi-Fi providers have opened up their existing Wi-Fi networks to the public, including in the Downtown Eastside, to better connect vulnerable people with support.
“These smartphones are lifelines and a long-term asset for people living in the Downtown Eastside and SROs. With the smartphones, we are also able to co-ordinate the drop-off of thousands of bars of soap, food and hygiene supplies to people and connect with people about COVID-19 symptoms and testing,” said Wendy Pedersen, coordinator of the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative. “We shared the smartphones with other front line organizations and groups in the DTES Response effort who work with people on the ground to provide vital services in the neighbourhood.”
In June 2019, the Province provided SPARC BC with $6 million for the Homelessness Community Action Grant program. To date, 53 grants for a total of $1,648,000 have been issued with the average grant amount of $31,094.
Homelessness Community Action Grants help groups address homelessness in their towns and cities. SPARC BC is distributing the Homelessness Community Action Grants to groups and organizations over three years as a one-time grant to successful applicants. The chosen projects will build on local resources and knowledge about homelessness and its causes, increase public awareness and support, and respond to gaps in services for people experiencing homelessness.
Written and released by BC Government
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