According to the statement, 3,500 smartphones have been secured for distribution by the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC) through funding from the Homelessness Community Action Grant program and a partnership with 7-Eleven.
“The need for internet connectivity has never been as important as it is right now. For people who are experiencing homelessness, the closing of public spaces like libraries due to COVID-19 has reduced connectivity options and created barriers to supports and services,” said Minister Shane Simpson.
“Providing smartphones for people on the street will help create easier access to those services, help people maintain physical distancing, and support people in staying connected to family and friends during this time.”
As of Tuesday, 1,000 phones have already been distributed across several communities in B.C., 200 of which were given to people who transitioned from Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and in the process of moving from Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park encampments in Victoria.
The remaining 2,500 phones will be handed to organizations and community response networks to disburse.
All phones are able to connect to WiFi and will come pre-loaded with a $10 7-Eleven data card so users can have access to the internet at any given time.
In Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, 500 of these smartphones have been distributed to low income residents living in one of the 4,500 single room occupancy hotel units.
Many of these phones have been equipped with a donated TELUS SIM card that provides a $0 rate plan including unlimited nationwide talk and text and three GB of data per month.
“With the smartphones, we are also able to co-ordinate the drop-off of thousands of bars of soap, food and hygiene supplies to people and connect with people about COVID-19 symptoms and testing,” said Wendy Pedersen, coordinator of the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative.
“We shared the smartphones with other front line organizations and groups in the DTES Response effort who work with people on the ground to provide vital services in the neighbourhood.”
Last week, the provincial government extended the deadline to dismantle the Topaz Park and Pandora Ave homeless encampments to May 20, citing the fact that no one will be asked to leave the encampments without being offered a suitable housing option.
As of May 11, 155 people have moved from the Victoria Encampments, leaving 95 people at those camps who remain without indoor shelter options.
According to Minister Simpson, BC Housing has assured the Ministry that there will be more than enough housing options for all the remaining occupants of the encampments.
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