In the wake of the California Public Utilities Commission decision to give cell phones to the homeless, the Chico City Council has decided to take it one step further and are moving to enact a program to give the homeless men and women of Chico iPads. “Cell phones are great for staying connected, but what [the homeless] really need is access to the Internet and an occasional game of Fruit Ninja once in a while,” says Mayor Mary Goloff. The iPads will come with preloaded apps: A job search app, Hipstamatic, and Yelp to review places like the Torres Shelter—giving transient homeless persons a heads-up about what’s for dinner and whether or not there are any beds available.
Unsurprisingly, councilmember Sean Morgan is a vocal dissenter when it comes to enacting this program, especially so quickly after the Plastic Bag Ban. “We’re hemorrhaging money, and the data plans alone would make the Chico Fire Department’s overtime scam look like they’d barely stolen a six-year-old’s piggy bank,” says Morgan.
Though California has been helping poor citizens pay their phone bill since 1985 via the Universal Lifeline program, they’re now taking it a step further. California’s Public Utilities Commission has jumped on board with Assurance Wireless and Virgin Mobile to provide cell phones to millions of homeless and jobless citizens. A free phone with 250 free minutes and 250 free texts will be available for qualifying individuals.
That sound you’re hearing right now is not an indicator that you’re getting a text message, it’s the collective tightening of every conservative’s asshole in California squeezing shut with fury.
The decades-old program is part of the Federal Universal Service Fund and is currently being implemented in 36 other states. The cell phones will give homeless people an opportunity to follow up on jobs, remain in contact with their families, make emergency calls, and stay connected. However, many Californians are calling this another entitlement program and wondering how, in the midst of ongoing state financial challenges, we can afford to be passing out phones to the poorest of our populace.
Some people are skeptical about whether or not the phones will actually be used for their intended purpose, and Internet message boards have been abuzz with inflammatory trolling and debate surrounding this controversial issue. One anonymous blogger comments, “They’re probably just going to be using them to text each other to find out things like, ‘WTCA?! (where the crack at?!)’ or ‘omg wtf bbq? (oh my god wtf did we just bbq?).’
When the decidedly left-leaning Chico City Council heard about the phone program, they knew that it would take more than a cheap cell phone to aid Chico’s most downtrodden. In a world fueled by social media and lightning-quick changes in trends and information, a person looking for work will need access to the Internet and,
at the very least, an email address. “These iPads will come pre-loaded with job search apps and they can set up email addresses to send in their resumes. If they don’t have a resume, they can use their iPads to create one. This is going to really streamline the process and help them overcome that first hurdle of getting a job,” says ex-mayor Ann Schwab.
Once a resume is received in response to an advertisement, the potential employers can call the applicant on their cell phone to arrange an interview.
Many homeless feel discriminated against due to their appearance when they arrive at a place of business to drop off a resume. They’re afraid to leave their belongings behind to attend an interview because of the rampant theft in the homeless community. When one has so few possessions, and necessities are so hard to come by, it can be devastating to have them stolen. When they’re carrying everything they own with them everywhere they go, their quest for finding a job can feel over before it even starts.
Though the iPads and cell phones will be crucial tools when it comes to opening employment doors, they don’t address what happens when an applicant actually lands an in-person interview. Where are they able to store their things, clean up, and get a ride to their interview? There are few places in town that offer those kinds of secure facilities and support services, and they are over-capacity and underfunded. “Just because [programs] are not all in place right now, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set the wheels in motion. These people need our help, not our condemnation and intolerance,” councilmember Tami Ritter would have said, had she responded to our request for comment.
There are also issues with charging stations and Wi-Fi versus 3G options. Where will the homeless charge their phones and tablets? The city of Chico has notoriously spotty wireless service. “We’re considering the possibility that we may need to put a cell tower somewhere downtown,” says Randall Stone. “We’re thinking that at the very least we could put a lightning rod on the top of the Senator’s diamond-style dome to see if that helps.” As for charging stations, councilman Mark Sorenson says, “We’re working on a deal with Barnes & Noble right now. All the homeless people tend to stop in there to poop and take naps anyway, so perhaps we could set up a charging kiosk in the back of the store, near the travel journals.”
Another challenge facing the distribution of iPads to the homeless is that some of Chico’s homeless just don’t have the capacity for employment due to mental illness, physical limitations, or medical issues. Some are calling for the development of a new program, Camp GoAway. All qualified poor and homeless people would be rounded up and shipped out to sea on a garbage barge, that way nobody would have to look at them and become uncomfortable while shopping downtown.
“As one of the only candidates to tour the Jesus Center last fall during my campaign, I was able to investigate the homeless situation with my own eyes,” says former city council candidate and Camp GoAway supporter, Toby Schindelbeck. “Taking everything into account, I think that we should just tear it down and build a Cross-Fit gym.”
Camp GoAway isn’t gaining much traction politically however, because the current City Council is skewed Non-Jerk.
Currently, the Chico City Council is working on the logistics of this plan and hoping to enact the first phase by summertime. Now that the Plastic Bag Ban has passed, the Council must ensure the second part of that plan—the Shopping Cart Ban—is implemented. “Exercise is important to me,” says Sean Morgan, “and if we’re gonna waste taxpayers time with bullshit like bag bans, then I want to ban shopping carts so all you fatties can get a little more exercise, making Chico a healthier, more premier place to live.”
Once the Shopping Cart Ban goes into effect in late spring, the Homeless iPad giveaway will be rolled out.
For more information, and to see if you qualify for a free iPad, call 530-894-2300. And for more information about the Federal Lifeline Assistance Program and cell phone benefits, please visit www.assurancewireless.com.