[Hpn] Tech-Savvy Homeless Stay Connected; ABC News; 8/14/2006

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@gmail.com
Mon, 14 Aug 2006 13:01:04 -0700


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Found at: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=2301408&page=1

Friday, August 11, 2006
ABC News
Technology & Science News section
Tech-Savvy Homeless Stay Connected
http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/print?id=2301408

For Transients Who Can Log In, the Internet Offers Them a Way to Stay Connected

By CHRISTINE BROZYNA

Aug. 11, 2006 — - When Leon Daryl Williams Jr. was homeless a few
years ago, it wasn't uncommon to find him digging through trash on the
streets of New York City. But he wasn't looking for aluminum cans or
leftover take-out food. He was searching for spare computer parts.

>From the discards he found, Williams rebuilt computers piece by piece.

"I was always trying to search out a way to work on computers," he
said. "To have something there before me, it was an inspiration."

Williams is part of a growing number of tech-savvy homeless people who
use computers and the Internet to stay connected with the world and to
reach out to others.

"The overwhelming majority of homeless people are using the Internet
as a free, easy and convenient way to hook up with the rest of the
world," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the
Coalition for the Homeless, a New York advocacy and service
organization for homeless men, women and children.


The Job Seeker

Williams said that after falling on hard times a number of years ago,
he was left with a broken life -- no home, no money and no idea how he
would get his life back on track.

What he did have was a knowledge of electronics and computers from
training he'd received before he ended up on the streets.

He honed his Internet skills at the Bowery Mission in New York City.
He'd spend hours in the mission's career center searching online for
schools to further his education.

He was eventually accepted at Per Scholas, a technical school in the
Bronx, and, after a few months there, got a job with Canon Business
Solutions.

"It was [thanks to] my ability to navigate the Internet that I was
able to find that school," he said.

Williams now works full-time, and has benefits and life insurance.
"I'm still on a high now. It's tremendous that it's actually
happening."

Melissa Alcorn, associate director of the Bowery Mission Women's
Center, said that Web sites like Monster.com, Craigslist.com and even
search engines like Google help make job hunting easier for the
homeless.

"They can Google the company to find the HR person and where to send
their resumes very easily," Alcorn said. She also said that Google is
a helpful tool in making sure that companies that post online are
legitimate. "I've been able to stop people who have been pursuing jobs
that are scams."


Helping Escape Depression

Kevin Barbieux of Nashville, Tenn., has used the Internet to speak his
mind in chat rooms and on discussion boards for years.

Barbieux credits the Internet for helping him overcome his social anxiety.

"My opinionated self started to come out in discussions on every
subject from religion to politics to music," he said.

Taking the advice of a few other chat room regulars, Barbieux started
his own site in 2002, which quickly rose to become one of the most
popular blogs on the Internet at the time.

Although still homeless, these days Barbieux can be found around
Nashville, hovering over his very own laptop, which was donated by
readers of his blog. He says between 500 and 700 people read his blog,
thehomelessguy.blogspot.com, daily.

"Whether or not a person suffers from depression, being homeless can
be very depressing. It is very easy for a homeless person to just shut
down mentally, emotionally, spiritually," Barbieux said. "Being online
-- even if just playing online games -- keeps their brains active and
keeps them interacting with others."

Besides easing the pain of loneliness, chat rooms can even spark a
love connection.

"I knew one homeless guy who met a girl from Canada in an online chat
room. They started e-mailing each other. Eventually, she came down
here to Nashville to meet him," Barbieux said. "After a couple days,
she took him home with her."


Accessibility

While many homeless people are curious about the Internet and want to
learn more about computers, they often face almost impenetrable
barriers.

"I felt embarrassed to go to an Internet café," Williams said. "People
would see my appearance, and it would make me not want to go in."

For others, feelings of inadequacy deter them from logging on to a computer.

"These are people who are vulnerable to discouragement," Tom Basile,
associate director of the Bowery Mission, said. "[The Internet] is a
technology that they're not that familiar with, and oftentimes it's
overwhelming for them. It's already in their minds that it's not in
their ability."

To help those who want to learn, many shelters and missions have added
computer centers over the years, according to Stoops.

Still, one of the most popular places for the homeless to go online is
the public library, which Stoops describes as "the de facto base
center for the homeless population."


Giving Hope

Although this technology helps the homeless make many facets of their
lives easier, above all else, the Internet gives them hope.

"The Internet is not a cure for anything, including homelessness. But
it can go a long way toward improving the quality of one's life,"
Barbieux said. "And if used wisely can lead a homeless person toward a
better life."


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Morgan morganbrown@gmail.com
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier, Vermont, USA
Norsehorse's Home on the Web:
http://morganbrown.googlepages.com