Rafael Rosado can regularly be found at St. Anthony’s Dining Room in the Tenderloin sipping coffee, charging his smartphone and slogging through what he calls the “paper trail” of searching for jobs and trying to find a home.
Now, free Wi-Fi and secure charging stations that launched Thursday, courtesy of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, make charging his smartphone a lot easier and safer for Rosado.
“A lot of people keep all their vital information on their smartphones,” Rosado said. “And finding Wi-Fi out there is pretty hard.”
Through his nonprofit, craigconnects, Newmark donated $25,000 and switched on the new internet service Thursday at St. Anthony’s Foundation, including the medical clinic, tech lab and outside the buildings at Golden Gate Avenue and Jones Street.
St. Anthony’s now has 18 code-accessed lockboxes for guests to charge phones, each with built-in chargers for new iPhone models and Android phones. Before, guests could charge devices at eight plugs outside while they waited in line for services.
Over lunch on Thursday, St. Anthony’s regulars Debra Pickens and Merle Furlong said the only free Wi-Fi nearby is at the Main Library in Civic Center and at Boeddeker Park, two blocks from St. Anthony’s dining room.
The City’s free #SFWiFi unrolled outdoor internet access in 2014 along a 3.1-mile stretch of Market Street to the Castro and in more than 30 selected parks in the eastern side of town.
A lot of St. Anthony’s homeless and low-income guests “tend to have devices,” St. Anthony’s spokesperson Anthony Singer said. But St. Anthony’s is about a block from Market Street, which is out of the free #SFWiFi’s reach.
“Smartphones are a democratizing force, everywhere in the world,” said Newmark, who helped launch St. Anthony’s Tenderloin Technology Lab in 2008. “People get access to resources that previously cost a lot more. That honestly makes me happy.”
“A smartphone that’s 2 years old, 3 years old, might be a lifeline for people. You can do Voice over IP, which is a cheap way to do a phone call. … With 10 minutes of education here, somebody’s monthly bill goes down,” Newmark said.
Julie Berlin runs the tech lab, where 120 people a day attend computer training. Until now, the internet was only hardwired to the lab’s computers. Her first lesson is always to help eliminate fear of technology by running a “petting zoo” of computer parts, letting students touch the keyboard and mouse.
The launch of the lab was “a statement that technology is an essential need,” Berlin said.
Newmark checks in on the tech lab to this day. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people who told me they found jobs that way, places to live and just generally hope,” he said. “It’s real-life ‘treating people like you want to be treated.’”