Saturday, May 30, 2009


Homeless but Wired

From The Homeless Stay Wired, by Phred Dvorak, WSJ, 5/30/09

Like most San Franciscans, Charles Pitts is wired. Mr. Pitts, who is 37 years old, has accounts on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. He runs an Internet forum on Yahoo, reads news online and keeps in touch with friends via email. The tough part is managing this digital lifestyle from his residence under a highway bridge.

"You don't need a TV. You don't need a radio. You don't even need a newspaper," says Mr. Pitts, an aspiring poet in a purple cap and yellow fleece jacket, who says he has been homeless for two years. "But you need the Internet."

Aspiring computer programmer Paul Weston, 29, says his Macintosh PowerBook has been a "lifeboat" since he was laid off from his job as a hotel clerk in December and moved to a shelter. Sitting in a Whole Foods store with free wireless access, Mr. Weston searches for work and writes a computer program he hopes to sell eventually. He has emailed city officials to press for better shelter conditions.

Robert Livingston, 49, has carried his Asus netbook everywhere since losing his apartment in December. A meticulous man who spends some of his $59 monthly welfare check on haircuts, Mr. Livingston says he quit a security-guard job late last year, then couldn't find another when the economy tanked.

For Skip Schreiber, 64, an amateur philosopher with wispy white hair who lives in a van, power is the biggest challenge to staying wired. Mr. Schreiber tended heating and ventilation systems before work-related stress and depression sidelined him around 15 years ago, he says. For his 60th birthday, he dipped into his monthly disability check to buy a laptop, connected it to his car battery, and taught himself to use it. "I liked the concept of the Internet," says Mr. Schreiber, "this unlimited source of opinion and thought."

Michael Ross creates his own electricity, with a gas generator perched outside his yellow-and-blue tent. For a year, Mr. Ross has stood guard at a parking lot for construction equipment, under a deal with the owner. Mr. Ross figures he has been homeless for about 15 years, surviving on his Army pension. Inside the tent, the taciturn 50-year-old has an HP laptop with a 17-inch screen and 320 gigabytes of data storage, as well as four extra hard drives that can hold another 1,000 gigabytes . . .

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