Used cellphone drive to help Downtown Eastside seniors dial 911

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Equipping vulnerable Downtown Eastside seniors with a means to contact emergency services is the impetus behind a new donation drive.

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Seven community partners have joined forces to launch today (December 2) a campaign to collect old cellphones and redistribute them to seniors who have neither a landline nor a mobile device.

“Many people who look at the Downtown Eastside don’t often think of seniors but in fact over 25 percent of the residents living in this area are seniors and that’s more than twice the city average,” Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said during the press conference held at Smith Yuen Apartments. “Most poignantly these are seniors who are generally, almost exclusively, extremely low income, very vulnerable in a crisis situation.”

Sarah Blyth, manager of seniors housing for Portland Hotel Society, initiated the campaign because she’s seen through her work with seniors how their living situation can leave them with no way of contacting 911, a communication tool the general population takes for granted.

“Sometimes they can’t call 911 from their room,” said Blyth, who is also the chair of the Vancouver park board. “They have to go to the front desk to call 911.”

It’s a basic service she said everyone should have. “So, this is a way for the community to get involved and give some cellphones that would otherwise go into the recycling bin and go into a landfill somewhere.”

The City of Vancouver, Telus, Vancity, Free Geek, St. Paul’s Hospital, and the Vancouver Police Department have joined with Portland Hotel Society in setting a goal of collecting 500 used cellphone through the holiday season. Telus has already donated several phones and the City of Vancouver will be donating 75 BlackBerry phones.

Drop boxes will be located at several downtown Vancity branches and two community centres.
Faye Bayko

Teal and orange drop boxes will be located at several downtown Vancity branches and two community centres: Creekside and Roundhouse. The bold graphics offer no confusion with their Uncle Sam-type call-to-action statement: “We want your old cell phones!”

Donors are asked to remove the SIM cards prior to dropping the phones in the donation boxes, and to include any batteries or chargers they may have. Staff at Free Geek will make sure all personal information is removed from the phones, refurbish them, and provide instruction in their use to seniors receiving donated phones.

Any extra phones donated will be given to the Vancouver police to distribute through their programs involving sex-trade workers or victims of domestic violence.

“We have numerous examples of where the phone has come in handy—whether it’s a medical emergency for an elderly person or if they are in a situation of domestic violence or perhaps something has occurred on the street, they’re able to use the phone to connect with the police or another emergency provider and we’re able to render assistance,” said Inspector Michelle Davey of the Vancouver Police Department. “It’s a tremendously valuable program.”

For the police department, she noted, it’s critical to get a communication mechanism in place with the elderly population.

“Many people are reluctant to call police,” Davey said. “With this program we’re able to basically help them through the process of calling 911 and make it less intimidating for them.”

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kathy white
Telus has a SmallTalk plan that is only $15 per month. It's not advertised, however the rep told me about it when I was going to cancel my cellphone.
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