Blogs Microreports Reports

Loss of Digital Access through Libraries


Reported by Charlie

Published on Friday, June 9th, 2023

Digital Inclusion/Exclusion
Blogs Microreports Reports

Loss of Digital Access through Libraries


Written by Charlie

Published on Friday, June 9th, 2023

Digital Inclusion/Exclusion

In this piece reporter Charlie talks about the way libraries are becoming less accessible for people experiencing homelessness. 

There are two issues here. The first issue is with people who are street homeless, the rough sleepers because phones are a commodity that are gained lost, gained again, lost or occasionally, when things are really desperate, sold. So, people don’t always have a phone or if they do it is not always the same number, which is a problem if someone is calling you back to say book an appointment or whatever.  

And there has been a change since I was homeless. You used to go into a library and they would give you a ticket, along with a daily password to use the facilities including the computers, but they don’t do that anymore. Now they will make you have to register and I’m pretty sure this has been designed to stop homeless people going in there.  

They need to find a way to allow homeless people access to the internet. I mean apart from so many elements of life now, the journal you have to fill in for Universal Credit is all on the internet and for many people experiencing homelessness and I mean not just people on the street, the library was one of their only point of access, if not their only point of access to the net. 

A few years back when I was street homeless and even when I was in the night shelter, we used to go to the library and hang out every day, sometimes all day. To use the computers all we would have to do is to fill out a slip each day and that would give us all day access. Now, you can’t do that. These days you actually have to become a member of the library itself because they are trying to cut down on the number of homeless people that are hanging around in the library.  

I mean you walk in to just about any library in the county and you will find homeless people sitting in the library, especially in the winter because it is warm, it’s safe and it’s just somewhere they can go.  

For a start a lot of libraries now aren’t called libraries anymore, they are called Discovery Centres and so they are trying to discourage homeless people from going into them, which is wrong because it has always been a safe haven for homeless people.

Part of registering is the provision of an address. And it is not just that now – you have to explain your situation. In the past you just had to go up to the counter and grab a slip of paper. Now you have to talk to them about it which can be difficult for some people experiencing homelessness.  

The thing is if you are going to run a digital world in which to get any money, to get any benefits, then it can be a problem for someone who doesn’t have a smartphone or loses their phone, breaks it or sells it as just part of the chaotic lifestyle that can be part of being homeless. So there needs to be places like the library that offers free and unregulated access to the online world.  

For many people with limited or no access to the net they don’t even know when they are being sanctioned. For example, some people don’t know when their appointments are because they will have lost their phone. 

There is some access at Job Centres but it is limited access. There used to be half a dozen computers in the Winchester Job Centre but now there are only 2 or 3. But the Job Centre is a pretty discouraging place. Again you can get access at the council offices, but these are places that can be discouraging and places where some people end up having confrontations for one reason or another. On the other hand the library has traditionally been a safe haven for people experiencing homelessness.   

Written by Charlie


Charlie Radbourne has more than six years, peer support and advocacy experience. Sitting on many service user forums and local authority committees. Due to mental health problems, coming under CMHT and the crisis team, Charlie spent eight months sleeping rough and in the local night shelter, then four years in a hostel / supported accommodation.

Read all of Charlie's articles

Tags


Digital Inclusion/Exclusion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *