Homeless people living in the city’s transitional encampments could have access to free wireless Internet service if Seattle City Council approves its proposed budget on Monday.
The issue sparked debate when GeekWire wrote about it last week, so I decided to check out for myself what homeless people living in Seattle’s roving Tent City 3 had to say. See the video above for some of their comments, and continue reading for more.
Below a busy overpass near 8th Avenue and 64th Street in the city’s Ravenna neighborhood, a fabric-lined fence conceals a group of tents covered with tarps and separated by sidewalks of plywood — not the first place you’d think of as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The constant humming of a small gas generator powers the microwave and coffee pot in the camp’s communal kitchen and the shared TV under a collapsible gazebo — small comforts they can’t afford to run all the time.
People here tell me Internet access would mean an easier way for to apply for jobs and housing services, reconnect with family and improve quality of life.
“Everything is all about the computer,” camper Aaron Ervin said. “Whether it’s sending out a resume or getting in touch with family members, it would open so many doors.”
Councilmembers voted on Nov. 14 to amend the city’s proposed 2015-2016 budget to include a commitment to devote a portion of transitional encampments funds to Internet access.
The overall budget proposal, which will come to a full council vote on Monday at 2 p.m., includes nearly $1 million for homeless services, plus additional allocations for outreach to homeless youth, partnerships to address homelessness, a year-round shelter for homeless women and $100,000 toward tent cities like this. A portion of that $100,000 would fund WiFi access under the proposal.
Kshama Sawant, the former software engineer who last year became the first Socialist to win a council seat in recent history, says Internet service is not a luxury, but a necessity. The United Nations agreed in 2011 when it declared Internet access a basic human right.
But some say Internet service is not a top priority for those in need.
“It should be a priority, but there are other things more important than Internet,” camper David Yu said. “When you see people starving and they’re out on the corner of the street because they have nowhere to go, I think that’s more sad than, you know, the Internet.”
The council’s overall proposed budget also includes funds for hygiene, including free toilets, showers and laundry services, plus provisions for food banks and other services.
Others wonder how city funds will benefit homeless people if they don’t have devices to access Wi-Fi. People here say that’s a common misconception — many homeless people have Internet-capable phones, tablets and laptops.
“I actually know quite a bit of people here that have laptops, tablets, smartphones … even (Samsung) Galaxy S5s and iPhones,” Yu said. “We’re all normal people, we just kind of got into a stupid situation where, you know, it kind of put us in a little place, but we’re all trying to get back out.”
Some campers already have Internet access, but say it’s a challenging expense. “It’s expensive, but it’s something I need,” camper Aryn Padin said.
Internet service allows access to job and housing applications, but it’s also important for quality of life, Ervin says.
“It will bring smiles to people’s faces,” he said. “Whether they are just doing something like getting in touch with their family on Facebook or watching a cool video on YouTube to lift their spirits, everyone needs that.”