[Hpn] As pay phones disappear, so does a lifeline for homeless people

William C. Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Fri, 21 Dec 2007 20:44:08 -0500


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1/71221020/1002

TECH TREND: As pay phones disappear, so does a lifeline for homeless =
people

By Raechal Leone=20
Maryland Newsline=20



      WASHINGTON - One of the worst parts of being homeless is the =
loneliness, said David Pirtle, who slept many nights on Baltimore's =
waterfront and Washington's streets.=20

      Homeless for more than two years, Pirtle combated the isolation by =
taking quarters people threw into a fountain at the National Museum of =
African Art in Washington and dropping them into a pay phone to call =
family in Ohio.=20

      Pirtle, 33, now has a home and a cell phone. But the pay phones he =
once relied on to connect with the world are becoming harder to find for =
those still on the street.

      "Everyone who's in the middle class thinks, 'Oh, no one uses pay =
phones anymore.' But not everyone is in the middle class," said Tracey =
Timpanaro, who publishes the magazine for the American Public =
Communications Council, a trade association for pay phone service =
providers.

      Without pay phones, many homeless must look elsewhere, such as =
cell phones and e-mail, to connect with family, reach potential =
employers, contact assistance providers and others.

      The Federal Communications Commission reported 24,784 pay phones =
in Maryland in March 2006, down 12,999 phones, or 34 percent, from five =
years earlier.=20

      Nationally, pay phones went from about 1.9 million to about 1 =
million during the same time, FCC data shows.

      Meanwhile, the FCC said wireless telephone subscribers almost =
doubled, from 114 million in 2001 to 217.4 million in 2006.

      The cell-phone explosion is a major reason pay phones are dying, =
said Mason Harris, president of the Atlantic Payphone Association.

      With pay phones eking out smaller revenues, providers like the =
ones Harris' organization represents struggle to make a profit. When =
they don't, the pay phones go.

      "Unfortunately, I do think that the numbers are going to continue =
to decrease," said Harris, who is also president of Robin Technologies =
in Rockville.

      The homeless do have other options, including free use of phones =
at many shelters. But Pirtle said it can be a problem for shelter =
residents looking for work, when an employer calls and is greeted with =
the name of a shelter.

      "The prospective employer is just going to hang up the phone. =
They're not going to leave a message," he said.

      And shelter residents often have to share a line with dozens of =
others. The 50 people at Community Vision's overnight shelter in =
downtown Silver Spring must sign up for turns on the phone, said =
facility manager Shena McFadden.

      She estimates about 20 people at the shelter have cell phones. But =
even they use the shelter phone when they can, to save costly cell-phone =
minutes.

      Most homeless people with cell phones have pay-as-you-go plans, =
said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition =
for the Homeless. They often do not have the credit history or =
identification needed for a less-costly contract plan, he said.

      Stoops called cell phones "a great equalizer" for his homeless =
friends who have them.

      "You can hide your homelessness status by having a voice mail =
account or a cell phone or an e-mail address, and no one knows that =
you're living in a doorway in downtown Baltimore or downtown =
Washington," he said.

      Pirtle, who works as a speaker for Stoops' organization, has had a =
cell phone since summer. He uses a pay-as-you-go plan.

      Such plans tend to cost more per minute. Verizon Wireless =
customers who sign a two-year contract can get 450 minutes a month for =
$39.99, said company spokeswoman Sherri Cunningham, a cost of less than =
1 cent per minute.

      Pay-as-you-go customers pay 2 to 10 cents a minute, plus an access =
fee of 99 cents to $2.99 each day they use their phones, she said.

      The homeless without cell phones sometimes pay homeless people who =
do own them for their use, said Eric Sheptock of Washington, who has =
been homeless for most of the last 14 years.

      He owns a cell phone, which Pirtle gave him after the two helped =
start the Washington nonprofit Until We're Home, Sheptock said. But it =
has been off for six months, because Sheptock cannot afford to pay for =
service. He usually heads to the nearest Metro station for a pay phone =
when he needs to make a call.

      "Homeless people who don't use the phone much throughout most of =
the year will want to use it at this time of year to call many family =
members and relatives," he wrote in a Thanksgiving week e-mail.

      E-mail is how Sheptock, 38, communicates most of the time. He =
spends about three hours a day, four to six days a week, on e-mail at =
public library computers.

      Some shelters also offer Internet access: At Community Vision, =
residents seeking work can sign up for a turn on one of seven shelter =
computers, McFadden said.

      Even with all the time he spends online, however, Sheptock did not =
know about free software, like Skype, that lets users make free calls =
over the Internet. "I only learned to do e-mail a year ago this month," =
he wrote.

      He did not know about Community Voice Mail, either. The national =
program provides free voice mail boxes to "people without phones seeking =
jobs, housing, health care or safety," according to its Washington =
affiliate Web site.

      Clients record a personal greeting, get a phone number to give out =
and a code to check messages. They cannot make calls from the number, =
but callers will not hear that a phone is out of service or that the =
call is going to a shelter.

      With pay phones scarce or not working, however, some clients have =
had to find other ways to check their voice mail, said Stacy Holmes, =
program director in Community Voice Mail's national headquarters.

      "We've heard time and time again from our clients it helps them =
break out of that sense of isolation," Holmes said.

      Pirtle, who lost touch with his family for a while when he was =
homeless, agreed. The sense of not having any connection to the world =
was more than disheartening, it was discouraging, he said.

      "It's one more barrier to getting yourself off the streets," he =
said.=20



      Originally published December 21, 2007
    =20



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<DIV><SPAN class=3Dheadline><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2><A=20
href=3D"http://www.delmarvanow.com:80/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=3D/200712=
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<DIV><SPAN class=3Dheadline><FONT face=3DArial =
size=3D2></FONT></SPAN>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV><SPAN class=3Dheadline>TECH TREND: As pay phones disappear, so does =
a=20
lifeline for homeless people</SPAN></DIV>
<DIV><SPAN class=3Dheadline></SPAN><BR><SPAN class=3Dbyline>By Raechal =
Leone=20
<BR>Maryland Newsline <BR></SPAN><BR></DIV>
<DIV>
<TABLE cellSpacing=3D0 cellPadding=3D0 width=3D"100%" border=3D0>
  <TBODY>
  <TR>
    <TD vAlign=3Dtop><!-- ARTICLE BODYTEXT --><!--ARTICLE TEXT--><SPAN=20
      class=3Dbodytext>
      <P>
      <P>WASHINGTON =97 One of the worst parts of being homeless is the=20
      loneliness, said David Pirtle, who slept many nights on =
Baltimore's=20
      waterfront and Washington's streets.=20
      <P>Homeless for more than two years, Pirtle combated the isolation =
by=20
      taking quarters people threw into a fountain at the National =
Museum of=20
      African Art in Washington and dropping them into a pay phone to =
call=20
      family in Ohio.=20
      <P>Pirtle, 33, now has a home and a cell phone. But the pay phones =
he once=20
      relied on to connect with the world are becoming harder to find =
for those=20
      still on the street.<BR><BR>"Everyone who's in the middle class =
thinks,=20
      'Oh, no one uses pay phones anymore.' But not everyone is in the =
middle=20
      class," said Tracey Timpanaro, who publishes the magazine for the =
American=20
      Public Communications Council, a trade association for pay phone =
service=20
      providers.<BR><BR>Without pay phones, many homeless must look =
elsewhere,=20
      such as cell phones and e-mail, to connect with family, reach =
potential=20
      employers, contact assistance providers and others.<BR><BR>The =
Federal=20
      Communications Commission reported 24,784 pay phones in Maryland =
in March=20
      2006, down 12,999 phones, or 34 percent, from five years earlier.=20
      <BR><BR>Nationally, pay phones went from about 1.9 million to =
about 1=20
      million during the same time, FCC data shows.<BR><BR>Meanwhile, =
the FCC=20
      said wireless telephone subscribers almost doubled, from 114 =
million in=20
      2001 to 217.4 million in 2006.<BR><BR>The cell-phone explosion is =
a major=20
      reason pay phones are dying, said Mason Harris, president of the =
Atlantic=20
      Payphone Association.<BR><BR>With pay phones eking out smaller =
revenues,=20
      providers like the ones Harris' organization represents struggle =
to make a=20
      profit. When they don't, the pay phones go.<BR><BR>"Unfortunately, =
I do=20
      think that the numbers are going to continue to decrease," said =
Harris,=20
      who is also president of Robin Technologies in =
Rockville.<BR><BR>The=20
      homeless do have other options, including free use of phones at =
many=20
      shelters. But Pirtle said it can be a problem for shelter =
residents=20
      looking for work, when an employer calls and is greeted with the =
name of a=20
      shelter.<BR><BR>"The prospective employer is just going to hang up =
the=20
      phone. They're not going to leave a message," he said.<BR><BR>And =
shelter=20
      residents often have to share a line with dozens of others. The 50 =
people=20
      at Community Vision's overnight shelter in downtown Silver Spring =
must=20
      sign up for turns on the phone, said facility manager Shena=20
      McFadden.<BR><BR>She estimates about 20 people at the shelter have =
cell=20
      phones. But even they use the shelter phone when they can, to save =
costly=20
      cell-phone minutes.<BR><BR>Most homeless people with cell phones =
have=20
      pay-as-you-go plans, said Michael Stoops, acting executive =
director of the=20
      National Coalition for the Homeless. They often do not have the =
credit=20
      history or identification needed for a less-costly contract plan, =
he=20
      said.<BR><BR>Stoops called cell phones "a great equalizer" for his =

      homeless friends who have them.<BR><BR>"You can hide your =
homelessness=20
      status by having a voice mail account or a cell phone or an e-mail =

      address, and no one knows that you're living in a doorway in =
downtown=20
      Baltimore or downtown Washington," he said.<BR><BR>Pirtle, who =
works as a=20
      speaker for Stoops' organization, has had a cell phone since =
summer. He=20
      uses a pay-as-you-go plan.<BR><BR>Such plans tend to cost more per =
minute.=20
      Verizon Wireless customers who sign a two-year contract can get =
450=20
      minutes a month for $39.99, said company spokeswoman Sherri =
Cunningham, a=20
      cost of less than 1 cent per minute.<BR><BR>Pay-as-you-go =
customers pay 2=20
      to 10 cents a minute, plus an access fee of 99 cents to $2.99 each =
day=20
      they use their phones, she said.<BR><BR>The homeless without cell =
phones=20
      sometimes pay homeless people who do own them for their use, said =
Eric=20
      Sheptock of Washington, who has been homeless for most of the last =
14=20
      years.<BR><BR>He owns a cell phone, which Pirtle gave him after =
the two=20
      helped start the Washington nonprofit Until We're Home, Sheptock =
said. But=20
      it has been off for six months, because Sheptock cannot afford to =
pay for=20
      service. He usually heads to the nearest Metro station for a pay =
phone=20
      when he needs to make a call.<BR><BR>"Homeless people who don't =
use the=20
      phone much throughout most of the year will want to use it at this =
time of=20
      year to call many family members and relatives," he wrote in a=20
      Thanksgiving week e-mail.<BR><BR>E-mail is how Sheptock, 38, =
communicates=20
      most of the time. He spends about three hours a day, four to six =
days a=20
      week, on e-mail at public library computers.<BR><BR>Some shelters =
also=20
      offer Internet access: At Community Vision, residents seeking work =
can=20
      sign up for a turn on one of seven shelter computers, McFadden=20
      said.<BR><BR>Even with all the time he spends online, however, =
Sheptock=20
      did not know about free software, like Skype, that lets users make =
free=20
      calls over the Internet. "I only learned to do e-mail a year ago =
this=20
      month," he wrote.<BR><BR>He did not know about Community Voice =
Mail,=20
      either. The national program provides free voice mail boxes to =
"people=20
      without phones seeking jobs, housing, health care or safety," =
according to=20
      its Washington affiliate Web site.<BR><BR>Clients record a =
personal=20
      greeting, get a phone number to give out and a code to check =
messages.=20
      They cannot make calls from the number, but callers will not hear =
that a=20
      phone is out of service or that the call is going to a=20
      shelter.<BR><BR>With pay phones scarce or not working, however, =
some=20
      clients have had to find other ways to check their voice mail, =
said Stacy=20
      Holmes, program director in Community Voice Mail's national=20
      headquarters.<BR><BR>"We've heard time and time again from our =
clients it=20
      helps them break out of that sense of isolation," Holmes=20
      said.<BR><BR>Pirtle, who lost touch with his family for a while =
when he=20
      was homeless, agreed. The sense of not having any connection to =
the world=20
      was more than disheartening, it was discouraging, he =
said.<BR><BR>"It's=20
      one more barrier to getting yourself off the streets," he said.=20
</P></SPAN>
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      <P><SPAN class=3Dbodytext><B>Originally published December 21,=20
      2007</B></SPAN></P></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></DIV>
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