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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005, 09:23 GMT
Call to give homeless broadband
Homeless man (PIC: Crisis)
More homeless people are using the internet
The homeless should be given broadband internet access, John Prescott's office has said in a new report.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister believes digital technology could be a lifeline for people on the streets.

It says many homeless people already use the internet and mobile phones to look for work and accommodation.

And it wants to build on this by encouraging homeless hostels and community centres in deprived areas to install broadband access.

'Digital divide'

The idea is set out in a report by the ODPM's social exclusion unit, which wants to encourage hostel managers to spend more cash on providing internet access.

I don't think IT is a substitute for a permanent address
Homelessness charity Crisis

An ODPM spokesman said having an e-mail address could be the first step to finding a permanent place to live, by enabling people to receive information about long-term living places while moving between hostels.

ODPM minister Jim Fitzpatrick said such a move would also help bridge the UK's "digital divide".

The report, entitled Inclusion Through Innovation: Tackling Social Exclusion Through New Technologies, also says IT can help disadvantaged elderly people stay in touch with friends and relatives.

'Virtual life'

And it cites the example of mobile phones being used by homeless people to avoid the stigma of not having a permanent address by leaving a mobile number on job application forms.

Homelessness charity Crisis has backed the report. Its Christmas Internet Cafe was accessed by around 100 people a day and was cited as an example of how web access can help the homeless.

The charity is developing a "virtual life portfolio", which will enable homeless people to store important documents and certificates they may need to help them claim benefits, medical help or get a job.

It also runs Crisis Skylight, a project in the East End of London, where homeless people can get IT training, which has helped about 12 people find work in its first year.

A spokeswoman for Crisis denied such schemes were diverting attention from accommodation problems and could even remove incentives to find a permanent home.

"I don't think IT is a substitute for a permanent address. A permanent address satisfies a number of needs. It is about having somewhere to call your own," she said.


Chris Askew, Crisis' director of fundraising, said: "Having a mobile phone or access to the internet means that homeless people do not need to put their lives on hold.

"Despite not having an address they can still access the help and support they need or get into work and training."

A spokesman for homeless charity Shelter said: "Technology can make it easier for homeless people to access the services they need.

"However, if the government really wants to tackle the growing inequality that is at the root of the housing crisis, it must commit funding for the social rented homes that could give those who are homeless or badly housed the chance of a brighter future."

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