Tech-Savvy Homeless Stay Connected

Besides easing the pain of loneliness, chat rooms can even spark a love connection.

"I knew one homeless guy who met a girl from Canada in an online chat room. They started e-mailing each other. Eventually, she came down here to Nashville to meet him," Barbieux said. "After a couple days, she took him home with her."

Accessibility

While many homeless people are curious about the Internet and want to learn more about computers, they often face almost impenetrable barriers.

"I felt embarrassed to go to an Internet café," Williams said. "People would see my appearance, and it would make me not want to go in."

For others, feelings of inadequacy deter them from logging on to a computer.

"These are people who are vulnerable to discouragement," Tom Basile, associate director of the Bowery Mission, said. "[The Internet] is a technology that they're not that familiar with, and oftentimes it's overwhelming for them. It's already in their minds that it's not in their ability."

To help those who want to learn, many shelters and missions have added computer centers over the years, according to Stoops.

Still, one of the most popular places for the homeless to go online is the public library, which Stoops describes as "the de facto base center for the homeless population."

Giving Hope

Although this technology helps the homeless make many facets of their lives easier, above all else, the Internet gives them hope.

"The Internet is not a cure for anything, including homelessness. But it can go a long way toward improving the quality of one's life," Barbieux said. "And if used wisely can lead a homeless person toward a better life."

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