Looking for some expertise to help a homeless shelter get everyone online

My friend runs a some homeless shelters and she could use some tech help. I thought I’d ask it out loud because I suspect the situation will be familiar to others and if we get an answer we can share.

My friend Monica is the new executive director at Haven Housing, which includes three community housing buildings in North Minneapolis. It’s an old neighborhood, with old, solidly built buildings. They have broadband coming into the buildings but the wireless network in the building is sketchy as best. The signals don’t go through walls. They have a bid for a better network of $6500. Reminds me of my days helping out with NetDay in the mid 1990s, where we pulled wires through old school builds to help extend Internet access from the “computer room” to the classrooms.

Are there any slick new technologies that would help extend the network? Or any advice to smooth the road? Would the CARES funding or ConnectedMN support this sort of technology? Truthfully, there are so many other needs that CARES would address, that I suspect preference would be to find another resource.

Another issue… One of the shelters at Haven is for families. Some of the residents get hotspots from their schools (a COVID-inspired gesture); some do not. It depends on the school and school district. They get kids from all over, which means some kids have access and some don’t. And while often kids can share, trouble arises if the “haves” move on and the have-nots are stuck. (And as you might imagine the hotspots do not work evenly in a solidly built building.)

It sounds like a potentially urban issue, except I don’t think it is. And as Minnesota discusses what to do about schools a month from now, it’s worth remembering that we don’t live within the borders we’ve created. One school district, one county, one township may make a decision (like handing out hotspots) and the neighbor decides the opposite. In practice that may leave cousins a mile from each other with different rules, advantages and disadvantages.

COVID seems to escalate the need for everything (especially technology) and accelerate the result of inequities. If you don’t have a broadband, you don’t get your work done today. Whereas, pre-COVID if you didn’t have broadband, you missed out on certain skills and opportunities and the community might not recognize that until you went to college or tried to get a job.

Happy to take any advice on the technology or policy aspects.

To get the ball rolling, someone has already suggested using a digital navigator, an expert with expertise in all aspects of digital needs in the field.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, education, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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