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Why Should the Homeless Be Allowed Cell Phones?

Updated on June 18, 2020
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.


Why is There a Cellphone Problem?

This question recently asked on the national level and in Columbus, Ohio by people that feel the homeless should not be permitted to have cell phones annoys me without end. I could become quite angry about this question. It is small minded, mean, and discourteous – and a circumstance that is likely no one’s business.

A town in America that has no homeless population received $400,000+ Stimulus Funding for homelessness treatment and prevention programming. No homeless; about half a million bucks to use for the homeless. What? Why do the complainers not target that circumstance instead?

The homeless are still individual persons and in Recession 2009, their numbers are increasing. You or I could be joining them if certain currents move too swiftly and our small boat in God’s wide sea overturns.

Are picture-phones a waste of time and money? Some people feel that the homeless should not be provided a free cellphone - or even be allowed to buy one.
Are picture-phones a waste of time and money? Some people feel that the homeless should not be provided a free cellphone - or even be allowed to buy one. | Source

Since the 1980s, social workers have often repeated that a large portion of the American population is only one paycheck away from homelessness. Current wisdom asserts that everyone should have in savings, at six months operating expenses for monthly living costs and bills--But who does?

Some people do, but not the majority of the population. This is America The Land of Opportunity and also a Good Place to Starve to Death. We have both sides of the um-yang coin, because we are a free nation and as a responsible one, we should be dealing with the negatives and not be sidestepping them by targeting needlessly distracting situations.

Low Technology Will Not Help

Should the homeless be allowed only to use a string phone of yesteryear?
Should the homeless be allowed only to use a string phone of yesteryear? | Source

Why is There a Problem?

Why the commotion and the uprising?

First Lady Michelle Obama went down the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to help serve meals in Miriam’s Kitchen, a neighborhood soup kitchen. Bless her for doing so, for walking her talk.

At Miriam's, a gentleman snapped a cell phone photo of FLOTUS at work and an uprising began with the first iteration of the photo’s broadcast in the nightly news.

It is not clear that the gentleman with the cell phone – a “luxury item” – was even homeless. However, the firestorm of complaints whipped across the nation chanting.

We kept hearing on the newscasts and on Twitter such barbs as:

“A homeless man (or woman) took a picture of Michelle Obama on a cell phone. How scandalous! The homeless should not be allowed to have cell phones, much less phones with photography ability! How can they afford them? Where do they receive their phone bills if they have no address?”

This all seems petty nonsense. Why should the disadvantaged be further disadvantaged by lack of communication ability?

Having no phone is like sailing a sunken ship.
Having no phone is like sailing a sunken ship. | Source

Not All Cell Phones are Luxuries

AARP puts out a $10/month emergency cell phone plan that the homeless and the elderly might be able to afford.

T-Mobile offers a $20 pay-as-you-go phone with a free 10 minutes and the homeless purchase minutes as they are able.

The homeless often do have some money and some homeless people work - some of them full-time. All of these people need to be able to communicate with potential employers, while pay phones are nearly extinct. While pay phones disappear, so does their function of offering free 911 calls in emergencies. This is unfair to those without a phone.

In my city, public venues have the standard drop buckets for donating eyeglasses to the needy, but they have added buckets for donating cell phones as well. This is from where many homeless persons gain their phones.

Obama Phone

Obama Phone helps low-income Americans with free

Lifeline brand cell phones.

The program was first proposed under the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. In the late 2010s, some legislators wanted to kill the program.

You need a boat that floats and a cellphone that works.
You need a boat that floats and a cellphone that works.

Should homeless people have cell phones donated to them?

See results

A True Story About a Helpful Cellphone

One of my clients, a single mom with two children on public assistance and almost ready to leave that system because she would be accepting a good job, became homeless without warning.

She went home to her government subsidized half-house and found another family living in it with her possessions. The landlord had rented it to someone else that would pay him more money. This was illegal, but she was unable to fight it, to obtain legal representation, or to have any other help. She was homeless. A relative took the kids, but she was homeless. She went to a shelter and kept her pay-as-you-go cell phone and was able to finish her high school diploma and find a job and start over. Complainers in the audience, would you have taken her cell phone away from her?

A cell phone is the only phone many people can afford, especially the homeless but many of the middle class as well. Pay-as-you-go is the alternative to “no phone at all.” Most of the payphones have disappeared from Columbus, Ohio. They were too often used for drug deals. There is a limit on pay-as-you-go phones in that a person can purchase only one per month – this cuts down on terrorist activities that use cell phones as bomb detonators.

Parents give their children a cell phone in order to call Mom or Dad for help if they need it. Should not the homeless be permitted to call 911 when they are assaulted? They are assaulted.

Some complainers feel that the homeless should use their daylight out-of-the-shelter hours to go to the public libraries and use the Internet to find work. That is no longer altogether possible, because the hours of computer access have been cut by 75%. Free telephone use available to job seekers up until January 2009 in libraries was removed.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cell phones are often discarded, but could be redistributed.
Cell phones are often discarded, but could be redistributed.
Cell phones are often discarded, but could be redistributed. | Source

The homeless, the elderly, and individuals that cannot afford an Internet connection at home are being herded off somewhere acutely, just as surely as Walt Disney Studios personnel herded lemmings over a cliff in the late 1950s in order to propitiate the myth that lemmings throw themselves off cliffs every year (They do not).

Not all homeless individuals will use their cell phones to place and receive job search related calls, but they should have that option. We in America cannot be a people that says that the homeless do not want to work and then denies them the tools needed to find that employment.


  • Obama Phone. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  • Woodford, R. Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Lemming Suicide Myth: Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior. September, 2003. Retrieved September 28, 2018.

© 2009 Patty Inglish MS


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