Homeless Need Internet Access to Find a Home: City Bar Justice Center Report Documents Lack of Technology in Homeless Shelters

New York, May 19, 2020 – The lack of access to technology – specifically Internet access – in homeless shelters severely hampers shelter residents in finding permanent housing, a report by the City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) finds. Additionally, insufficient Internet access is imposing further hardships on homeless families, as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closing of schools in favor of remote education.

In 2019, the CBJC’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless conducted a survey of current and former New York City homeless family-shelter residents to obtain information about their access to and use of Internet-ready devices and Wi-Fi. The results of the survey are detailed in the report “Homeless Need Internet Access to Find a Home: How Access to Internet and Technology Resources Can Support Homeless Families Transition out of Homeless Shelters.” The report confirms, among other things, that (1) NYC shelters do not currently provide adequate access to the Internet, (2) most shelter residents are not able to otherwise regularly access the Internet on their own, and when they do, it requires them to self-fund costly cellular plans with funds that could be put to better use elsewhere, and (3) improved access to the Internet would enable shelter residents to improve their living conditions and return to self-sufficiency.

“The problem of no or limited Internet access in shelters has been front and center during the COVID crisis as the Department of Education has had to scramble over weeks to obtain and provide Internet enabled devices to homeless children so they could engage in remote learning with their peers,” said Lisa Pearlstein, Director of the Legal Clinic for the Homeless Project. “These children should have had Internet access all along, so they could complete their school assignments as easily as their more fortunate peers. Their parents should not have to pay from their limited Cash Assistance or earnings for Internet hot spots or cellular plans to enable them to look for jobs or apartments that would enable the family to exit shelter.”

The report includes data on Internet and technology access in NYC homeless shelters, firsthand accounts from current and former family-shelter residents, examples of what other cities are doing, and recommendations for remedying the problem as soon as possible.

Click here to access the complete report.

About the City Bar Justice Center

The City Bar Justice Center increases access to justice by leveraging the resources of the New York City legal community. The Justice Center operates the city’s largest civil legal hotline and annually provides direct legal representation, information and advocacy to over 20,000 poor and vulnerable New Yorkers in areas including immigration, veterans assistance, homelessness, trusts and estates, cancer advocacy, and elderlaw.