Shutterstock

Connecting through social networks can make it easier to be homeless and easier to escape homelessness.

Homeless people have Facebook friends, too. According to a new study from University of Dayton sociologist and criminologist Art Jipson, homeless people are increasingly connected to each other and to non-homeless people through social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, accessed through cell phones.

Jipson found, through interviews with a relatively small sample of homeless people in the Dayton area, that the homeless are using the sites for their social networking aspects, but also for day-to-day practicalities: finding places to sleep, sources of food and access to services.

Given the relative cheapness of pay-as-you-go cell phones (especially compared with housing costs), it's not surprising to find that an increasing amount of homeless people are using cell phones to access the internet. A study by USC researcher Eric Rice released in December found that 62 percent of homeless youth have cell phones. An earlier study found that 85 percent of homeless youth are frequent internet users, either through cell phones, libraries or youth agencies. This 2009 story from The Washington Post found prevalent cell phone and email use among the homeless in Washington D.C.

Advocates who work with the District's homeless estimate that 30 percent to 45 percent of the people they help have cellphones. A smaller number have e-mail accounts, and some blog to chronicle their lives on the streets.

Homelessness advocacy groups are beginning to recognize how cell phones and internet access can be useful tools for the homeless, and have organized cell phone drives to collect and distribute used phones to the homeless in places like Denver.

Equipped with a cell phone or access to the internet on computers at public libraries, the homeless can more easily access information – and share information with others. But this isn't necessarily some modern-day version of "hobo signs" or carvings, left on the fence posts of houses to communicate whether the homeowners were amenable to helping out or not. The vast majority of homeless people using the internet and social networks aren't homeless for long stretches of time. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, only 18 percent of the homeless population in the U.S. is chronically homeless. So while there may be a fair amount of homeless people using the internet and social networking sites to keep in touch with other homeless people, more are keeping in touch with the non-homeless. It may just be that being able to connect through social networking and media sites makes it both easier to be homeless and easier to escape homelessness.

Top image: Tom K! / Shutterstock.com

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  2. Four New York City police officers arresting a man.
    Equity

    The Price of Defunding the Police

    A new report fleshes out the controversial demand to cut police department budgets and reallocate those funds into healthcare, housing, jobs, and schools. Will that make communities of color safer?

  3. photo: Lorrine Paradela, one of 125 participants in a basic income experiment in Stockton, California, used some of her $500 a month income to purchase a newer car.
    Equity

    Stockton Extends its Monthly $500 UBI Payment Experiment

    A pioneering universal basic income pilot in the low-income California city was scheduled to expire soon. But the coronavirus crisis made the case to extend it.

  4. Equity

    The Problem With Research on Racial Bias and Police Shootings

    Despite new research on police brutality, we still have no idea whether violence toward African Americans is fueled by racial prejudice. That has consequences.

  5. photo: Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks to reporters on June 1, after a weekend of widespread protests against police violence.
    Equity

    What Mayors Are Saying About the George Floyd Protests

    As demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd spread across the U.S., city leaders offered a range of responses to the unrest.

×