Erika recently re-entered housing after experiencing homelessness. It was the first step in stabilizing her life and getting back on her feet. But, what came next?
She soon found herself faced with accessing medical treatment, applying for jobs, reconnecting with friends and family, maintaining mental health, and even just determining how to spend her free time in a positive way. These were just a few of the day-to-day needs awaiting Erika.
The challenge was that nearly all of these tasks have increasingly shifted online over the past decade. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, these things have been nearly impossible without reliable access to the internet.
Erika’s experience demonstrates that everyone needs access to the internet to fully participate in their community and live a productive life. However, this need remains unmet for far too many individuals experiencing or exiting homelessness.
A recent study found that most housing and homeless service providers and clients do not have strong, reliable internet connections to engage with each other remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, 52% of survey respondents note that difficulty navigating various technology platforms impacts clients’ ability to connect with agency staff and connect to critical services, and a majority of agency interviews and client focus group responses reaffirmed this finding.
A key finding of the IT & Technology Needs Assessment of Santa Clara County’s Supportive Housing System our team conducted in 2021 was that fast and reliable internet access is vital to clients and service providers working towards housing stability during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, at the time of the report — a full year into the pandemic — very few supportive housing developments and services sites were equipped with strong, reliable internet connections necessary to effectively engage in services remotely.”Monica Porter of Homebase, which conducted the assessment
Put simply, in-home connectivity is key to creating an environment where individuals who are vulnerable and formerly homeless can live, work, and thrive.
BRINGING PARTNERS TOGETHER TO ADDRESS THE NEED FOR WI-FI
Destination: Home has been working with its partners to equip permanent supportive housing developments with strong, reliable, and affordable Wi-Fi access for staff and residents. In 2018, Cisco made a five-year, $50 million commitment to Destination: Home to help launch the Supportive Housing and Innovation Fund to reduce and prevent homelessness in Santa Clara County. Five percent of this funding was specifically earmarked to identify and implement technology solutions to improve organizations’ ability to effectively address homelessness.
As one of its first projects, Destination: Home partnered with PATH San Jose to install free Wi-Fi connectivity to all apartments and common areas in the Villas on the Park. This is a permanent supportive housing development operated by PATH that opened in early 2020 and currently houses 84 formerly homeless residents.
PATH conducted a survey of residents prior to the installation. A vast majority of residents indicated they knew it was important to have reliable access to the internet. A majority of residents also indicated that they would use the internet to connect with friends and family, access educational resources, and to search for information on employment opportunities.
Cisco’s funding covered the cost of wiring the Villas on the Park to accommodate Wi-Fi access in each unit and to cover the first year of Internet Service Provider (ISP) costs for PATH. The team at PATH was instrumental in overseeing the installation and helping get every resident set up and connected to the service. PATH also agreed to cover the cost of maintaining this service for at least 4 additional years.
Beyond its initial contribution to Destination: Home, Cisco also played a hands-on role in this pilot project. Cisco provided project consultation and donated more than $200,000 worth of Meraki Wi-Fi products and licenses. These products provide fast connections and high user capacity to support streaming, video calls, games, and other activities on multiple devices at the same time with no disruption in services.
When we made the decision to support Destination: Home, it was critical that technology be part of the partnership. We have seen over three decades that technology enables people to not only meet their basic needs, but is a bridge to building job skills, finding career opportunities, and achieving economic self-sufficiency – all of which are vital for people who have recently experienced homelessness.”Erin Connor, manager of Cisco Crisis Response
Additional partners integral to this effort included ShelterTech, who brought expertise from completing similar connectivity projects in over 20 shelters throughout San Francisco and provided overall project management support at PATH, Professional Computer Support (PCS), the counterpart to ShelterTech who completed the project installation and is responsible for the in-unit access design, as well as the San Jose Mayor’s Office, which helped introduce various ISP vendors as part of their Digital Inclusion Initiative.
I applaud Cisco and Destination: Home’s partnership to bring more residents online. From accessing essential services to reconnecting with loved ones, online access is critical to our mission of inclusivity for all our residents.”Sam Liccardo, San José Mayor
CREATING POSITIVE IMPACT FOR TENANTS
The benefit to the residents of Villas on the Park has been undeniable – particularly as the pandemic has lingered on.
From my personal experience of once living in the street and not having internet access, to now having free Wi-Fi and being housed, now I am able to do research for anything I need regarding my health.”Erika, resident at Villas on the Park
Another resident, Katelyn, shared her experience:
I feel having access to free Wi-Fi in The Villas Apartments has helped me accomplish so many different tasks from job hunting to being able to visit my son on video chat. I am extremely grateful for this service.”Katelyn, resident at Villas on the Park
The Wi-Fi access made it possible for her to attend court hearings, complete outpatient treatment, and connect with a supportive mentor during this chapter of her life as a newly sober person.
Consistent access to Wi-Fi has not only helped residents build the stepping stones to the next phase of their lives, but to also take part in the day-to-day activities that create a sense of home. For instance, Katelyn has also been listening to music online to support her mental health and to help her fall asleep at night. She also uses Twitter to keep up on current events (you can follow her at: @KatelynS8888).
MORE TO COME
Destination: Home plans to continue these installations throughout Santa Clara County because they give individuals who have experienced homelessness and housing providers better access to the internet. This increases operational efficiency for the housing organization and helps individuals use the technology to meet their unmet needs
A second project was recently completed at Casitas de Esperanza in San Jose in partnership with Amigos de Guadalupe and the County of Santa Clara, ShelterTech, PCS, and Cisco. Destination:Home will launch three more projects in 2022.
We thank all of our partners for helping provide this essential lifeline to the residents of the Villas on the Park.