City Bar Urges de Blasio Administration to Prioritize Internet Access for Homeless Shelter Residents
Calls for Prioritizing Shelters as Part of City-Wide Plan to Expand Broadband Access
New York, August 24, 2020 – The New York City Bar Association is urging the de Blasio Administration to prioritize and provide broadband internet access for homeless shelter residents in the Mayor’s recently announced NYC “Internet Master Plan.”
While the plan prioritizes NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) facilities to help those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not mention homeless shelters.
“New York City has long been a leader in ensuring that its homeless residents have access to shelter, and these times demand that the City now lead the way in providing technology access to its shelter residents,” the City Bar wrote in its letter, which was informed by a recent report by the City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
That widely-endorsed report found that 75% of surveyed shelter residents agreed that internet access would help improve their circumstances, 67% wanted but had no regular access to internet and only six percent were able to access the internet through their homeless shelter. The report documents the devastating consequences shelter residents face due to their lack of reliable internet access. The letter points out that because shelter residents do not have reliable internet access, individuals and families are unable to search and apply for permanent housing, search and apply for jobs, participate in remote classes and complete homework, obtain necessary medical care, among other vital activities.
These issues have only become more pronounced during the pandemic, which “has significantly exacerbated the barriers resulting from the City’s digital divide, raising the stakes to literally life-or-death,” the letter states. “This is a public health emergency, and it is clear that the City must act quickly in order to meet its basic responsibilities to its unhoused residents.”
The City Bar is seeking the City’s commitment to include Department of Social Services (DSS)-funded properties in plans to prioritize those City residents most impacted by the pandemic and to provide access to the following in every City shelter:
- Reliable Wi-Fi connections available to all shelter residents;
- Updated Internet-ready computers, tablets, or other internet-ready devices;
- Wireless or Bluetooth printers, or printers that maintain connections with the shelter’s computers, tablets or other word processing devices.
“This must be a sustained commitment and [the City Bar] strongly urge[s] the City to consult with all stakeholders as it devises a plan to provide internet access in shelters,” the letter concludes.
In an effort to amplify the issues outlined in its letter, the City Bar and City Bar Justice Center are launching a #Wifi4Homeless campaign. The campaign will seek to engage the public and partner organizations in raising awareness about the lack of the basic necessity of internet access, Wi-Fi accessibility and essential technology resources in New York City homeless shelters, and urge the Mayor’s Office to include and prioritize homeless shelters in their plan to expand broadband internet access for low-income New Yorkers in its Internet Master Plan. For more information on the #Wifi4Homeless campaign, visit: https://bit.ly/2FFfGax.
The City Bar’s letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson and Department of Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks can be found here: https://bit.ly/3kWEmLM.
About the New York City Bar Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 25,000 members, is to equip and mobilize a diverse legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world. www.nycbar.org
About the City Bar Justice Center
The City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) increases access to justice by leveraging the resources of the New York City legal community. The CBJC operates the city’s largest civil legal hotline and annually provides direct legal representation, information and advocacy to over 20,000 poor and vulnerable New Yorkers in areas including immigration, veterans assistance, homelessness, trusts and estates, cancer advocacy, and elderlaw. www.citybarjusticecenter.org