I hope none of you are homeless, but I know people who are or have been. And I’ve also heard a lot of cynical comments from people who aren’t when they see someone on the street begging for help and then using what looks like an expensive phone. So I wanted to go over some practical reasons why a homeless person might have a smart phone or feel like maintaining the phone is a good use of their limited income that aren’t just poor judgment.
How Can a Homeless Person Afford a Smart Phone?
1. They bought the phone when they were in a much better financial place. Before the jobs loss, before the medical bills piled up, before the fire that destroyed their apartment, etc.
2. Someone else gave it to them. Charity, friend, family member, kind stranger. Just because a poor person has a phone doesn’t mean they bought it.
3. A special promotion or payment plan. While paying for a smart phone upfront may cost you a few hundred dollars, many cell phone companies offer their phones for relatively low monthly payments, or at a reduced price with contract. While that can add up or even cost more over time, it’s more realistic that a poor person can scrounge up $20 per month than $200 or $300 in a single lump.
How Can a Homeless Person Afford a Dataplan?
1. They may not have one. Smart phones have gotten pretty smart. They’re really more like personal computers now. Even if a smart phone’s services gets cut off, it may still work as a camera, or connect to public wifi to check e-mail, or as a flashlight or apps that were download while the person did have a plan and still work even though the ability to make calls has been shut down.
2. They got a cheap plan. Data plans can run hundreds of dollars per month, particularly if you’re not careful about your usage. But not every phone is this expensive. Nor does every phone plan require a contract. They may be paying month by month, or have a very limited phone plan.
3. They have a job. Not everyone who is homeless is unemployed. Many homeless people are underemployed, meaning they do work but can’t get the hours or income they need to cover rent.
4. They’re part of a group plan. Many family and group plans can be significantly cheaper for the individuals splitting the plan than buying a dataplan by yourself. Again this may be a family member helping them out.
5. They mainly use public wifi. Public wifi is less secure, but it's widely available now. Watching your data usage can help keep your phone bill low.
Why Would a Homeless Person Need a Smart Phone?
1. Weight. Imagine all your earthly possessions don’t have a safe place to stay, so you have to carry them on your back. A smart phone, aside from being a phone, can also be a flashlight, a book, a map, a level, a camera, a calendar, a notepad, a game, a calculator, alarm clock etc. Replace all those items with a single small one, and it leaves more room for important basic necessities in your bag.
2. Information. The local church may be giving away free hamburgers and winter coats, but that doesn’t do you any good if you don’t know about it. While libraries are great for getting information and internet access to the poor, they aren’t always open or close enough to walk to.
3. Job opportunities. It’s hard to get a job when you don’t have an address. Having a steady e-mail address and a phone number increases the way potential employers can contact you and you them.
4. Human connection. First and foremost, homeless people are people, and it’s a lot easier for people to get through tough times with other people to help them with advice and encouragement as well as in more tangible ways. Smart phones may help the homeless connect with distant relatives or local support groups.
The point of this post isn’t to encourage anyone to run out and get a smart phone. If you’re doing well without it, save your pennies. But I’d seen enough snide comments about homeless people using smart phone that I felt like this needed to be addressed from a practical side.