Seattle council member Kshama Sawant is pushing the need for Internet access for the homeless. She wants to allocate $100,000 of Seattle funds to make this mission successful. The debate on the issue is simple. Some believe that the homeless have bigger needs than the Internet, while others believe Internet access will allow them to look for jobs. I have to say I stand with Kshama Sawant on this issue.
I’m for the Internet as it’s an extra tool that could lead to more opportunities (like jobs, housing, and making money). Unfortunately, I think the terms must be tweaked to make this work. First, $100,000 budget for some Internet access is extreme. Internet is $50 per month by Comcast and I’m sure the city of Seattle could arrange a non-profit deal with them to get an even better rate. In fact, they probably could wire it in with their current city Internet connections at an extremely low cost. It really shouldn’t cost more than the $15,000 per year project. With more access, the shelters could attract volunteers to work with the homeless one one-on-one and get their resume updated, email setup, typing skills, and general Internet usage help. There really is a lot of opportunity on the Internet. It’s the difference of sending 10 resumes a week or 100 resumes a week. In addition, there needs to be some blocking setup on the computers so they are not misused. That setup doesn’t cost anything extra.
In short, let’s move forward on the issue with a better plan for implementation and a much lower budget.
The comprehensive budget proposal, set for a full council vote on Monday at 2 p.m., earmarks close to $1 million for services aiding the homeless. It also designates funds for outreach to homeless youth, initiatives to combat homelessness, a year-round shelter tailored for homeless women, and $100,000 for encampments like this one. A segment of this $100,000 is proposed to finance WiFi accessibility.
Kshama Sawant, previously a software engineer, and notably the first Socialist to secure a council seat in contemporary times, asserts that Internet service is indispensable, not just a luxury. This sentiment was echoed by the United Nations in 2011 when they recognized Internet access as a fundamental human right.
Geek Wire, a technology news site in Seattle, decided to hit the streets and see how the homeless feel about the proposal and if it is valuable to them personally.
Update: While the program was a good idea, Seattle dropped the ball and used all the money for “more important” things. As we have seen over the years, Seattle doesn’t have the best track record of money management. The good news is that in 2016, the Seattle Public Library took action. Hayden Bass, the library’s outreach coordinator, and several other librarians would visit a tent settlement in Seattle at least monthly. They provided books, library card sign-up forms, and Wi-Fi hotspots. Specifically, the library allocated 50 hotspots exclusively for the city’s homeless encampments, a project partially supported by a $305,000 contribution from Google.
For years, libraries, and notably the Central Library in downtown Seattle, have served as daytime sanctuaries for the homeless.