B.C.'s minister of social development and poverty reduction, Shane Simpson, says there's never been a greater need to have access to the Internet.
But the veteran politician also recognizes that the shutdown of libraries and other public spaces has made it more difficult for low-income people to go online and obtain health or social services.
That's why his ministry has provided funding through the Homeless Community Action Grant program to enable 3,500 smartphones to be distributed by community groups across B.C. that help the vulnerable.
"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,” Simpson said.
This initiative is being done in partnership with the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. and 7-Eleven.
Each phone comes with a preloaded 7-Eleven data card valued at $10.
According to the ministry, 1,000 phones have been distributed so far, including some to homeless who've been encouraged to leave encampments in Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and from Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park in Victoria.
The Downtown Eastside SRO Collective is distributing 500 of the smartphones. These devices have SIM cards donated by Telus, allowing nationwide talk and text, as well as three gigabytes of data per month for free.
“These smartphones are lifelines and a long-term asset for people living in the Downtown Eastside and SROs," the group's coordinator, Wendy Pedersen, said in a government news release. "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.”
The Straight's homeless blogger, Stanley Q. Woodvine, tweeted the following message after reading the article above.