Wi-Fi limits at Calgary Drop-In Centre could hamper homeless success: Client

According to the Drop-In Centre clients have had access to wireless Internet since the summer of 2018 when Shaw made a generous donation.

Shelter is now only allowing clients access to a list of links instead of the entire internet

The Calgary Drop-In Centre has placed limits on the websites that can be accessed through its Wi-Fi network. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

This month, the Calgary Drop-In Centre has made a change to how clients access Wi-Fi.

And while they're doing it to make sure people are focused on getting out of emergency shelters — one client says it's going to hamper that core goal.

According to the Drop-In Centre, clients have had access to wireless Internet since the summer of 2018 when Shaw made a generous donation.

But what they didn't realize at the time was how people were using the Internet. So, this year, they re-evaluated that access and decided to gear it toward the organization's essential goal: getting folks out of homelessness by finding somewhere to live.

"We truly believe that nobody should be living in emergency shelters," said Natalie Noble, director of programs and housing.

"Emergency shelters are for emergencies. And all of our services to focus on helping people get out of their experience of homelessness as soon as possible."

Currently, wireless access sends clients to a landing page with links where they can go to sites like Rentfaster, or government assistant pages to help them get the services they need and more. 

Ken Johns says he has some data access on his phone so he isn't reliant on Wi-Fi, but many at the Drop-In Centre aren't as fortunate. (Helen Pike/CBC)

But client Ken Johns says there's a huge hole on that page. Clients like him aren't looking for rentals on Rentfaster, they want to be able to use sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji — and to actually get in touch with landlords they need access to email. 

"One of the basic things that people can't access is an email account because it's not on their approved list," he said. "So you can't send out an email to an employer or to a landlord because you don't have it."

Noble said the list of accessible websites they've started with isn't exhaustive. She hopes clients will come to the DI directly to help finesse the access points and give them what they need to succeed. 

"I think email is important because if you were to do a housing search or an employment search, you need access to your email," she said. "If there's a case to be made to have social media for clients so that they can seek employment. I think that makes sense — it's not about restricting clients."

Natalie Noble, director of programs and housing at the Drop-In centre, said the new wireless access isn't meant to be restrictive. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Johns argues the organization shouldn't be pointing clients to what they can access, rather they should filter out the problematic sites.

He said for him, at the end of a long day, he likes to browse the web and watch a show on Netflix — just like people who have homes. It's time he uses to plan for the next day and unwind.

But he agrees there are sites people shouldn't be accessing — like pornography.

She was just a mess, for lack of a better term because now she doesn't know how she's going to be able to do it because she can't get to the library.- Ken Johns

And he's already seeing his friends struggle with the change. One client who he says uses a wheelchair to get around was really upset when she realized she'd have to find an open network to contact her daughter in Nova Scotia. 

"I noticed that she was crying quite heavily. I asked her what was wrong. And she said, the internet isn't not working," he said. "She was just a mess, for lack of a better term because now she doesn't know how she's going to be able to do it because she can't get to the library."


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