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Homeless Stay Wired in San Francisco



The Wall Street Journal published an article about how some homeless San Francisco residents stay connected. Some use computers at libraries and shelters, but not Michael Ross. He has an HP dv9000 series notebook, four external drives, 3G service, generator, Netflix and Blockbuster subscriptions.

Mr. Ross connects his laptop computer to the generator. He can go online using a PC card that provides wireless Internet access. Mr. Ross spends about $4-$5 a day in gas for his generator, and can spend as much as $66 a month for the Internet access.

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  1. blash

    05/31/2009 at 1:47 pm

    One of two things apply here:

    1) If you were just hard on your luck and want more than anything to get a warm bed with a hot shower back, that’s some serious fiscal irresponsibility. Lord knows someone could put that kind of money towards what may be cheap but damn if it wouldn’t be permanent housing.

    2) If you’re the kind of person who decided to fling off society and live a life not tied down, but one where you’re free to go and do what you want – all this does is lengthen the strings that connect you to your old life.

    Need I write a conclusion?

  2. Sumocat

    05/31/2009 at 2:18 pm

    blash: I think more than two conditions apply, particularly in the case of Mr. Ross here, a homeless American military vet living on his pension. Aside from him, several examples in the story seem no more than two lucky steps away from living my life (or vice versa).

  3. gmich

    05/31/2009 at 6:44 pm

    Well said, Sumocat.

  4. blash

    05/31/2009 at 8:08 pm

    “”It’s really a symbol in today’s society of being OK and connected,” she says. She sometimes urges homeless students to put off buying laptops until their living situations stabilize.”

    But I shouldn’t just quote the part of the article that the writer posted purely in order to give equal time even though he doesn’t believe in it. Do we start with fiscal responsibility?

    “Sitting in a Whole Foods store with free wireless access, Mr. Weston…” The only thing Whole Foods sells that’s really worth buying when you’re on a very tight budget is the store-branded water ($0.75 for 1.5 L of ice-cold? hell yea!) Unfortunately, that bottle of water doesn’t come with free food – WF food is expensive and Lord knows bottled water (or tap water from clean cheap places to eat) will still be available and not at a rip off price either.

    “A meticulous man who spends some of his $59 monthly welfare check on haircuts,” which although quite necessary to obtain a job, isn’t the indicator he’s having that many job interviews or else it wouldn’t have taken him this long to find lodging (no one’s karma’s THAT bad).

    “Mr. Pitts expects to soon scrape up the money for another computer. He figures he can get one for less than $200.” Assuming this means something like $150… imagine what $150 buys you. Enough food and water to last a month, shelter, or internet access. For all the geeks out there on the internet who jokes about being able to subsist entirely on bandwidth, we know that the situation of the homeless isn’t indicative of a warped sense of priorities.

    “… the economic downturn is pushing more of the wired middle class on to the streets…”

    So what’s happening here? 1) A sense of entitlement and 2) the failure of the system. Meaning? We have homeless people spending their welfare and unemployment and disability etc checks on frivolities that they think they need because they continue to drool along to the same corporate advertising and mainstream media dance that they used to drool to back when they were middle class. The point of the social welfare system not just that we have, but in general, is to get people back on their feet. Too little money and they starve in the street, too much money and they don’t need to find the jobs that the system is conceptually designed to require them to find.

    Do keep in mind this is the same middle class that busted out (and will continue to, if the stereotypical college student’s financial behavior is to be allowed into evidence) the credit card for every last thing they ever wanted, bought a new house they couldn’t afford, bought a new SUV to keep them “safe”, and then realized that credit didn’t equal free money (I shudder to think what would happen if homeless people had credit cards with high limits… oh well at least my creditors can’t legally kill me if I can’t pay up, and I’ll be no worse off than I was before?).

    For the people who cry, “be compassionate!” I point out that homeless life is not designed to comfortable. Comfort does not motivate anyone to reach anywhere (that’s the promise of comfort) and what society is trying to do is say to the homeless, OK, you fell off the pyramid, dust your feet off, here’s a ladder. The pillows are up here when you want them. The bottom of the bottom is supposed to be smelly and grungy so the reaction to get to the ladder is less lethargic struggle and more electric shock.

    If you don’t like it, join me in Socialism. In the meantime, its stories like this that verify that (when government funds are their only income besides the fake-generosity that is the public’s lightening of their pockets of loose change) it’s immoral to give or even promote said generosity – I pay the government enough in taxes to make sure that my “loose change” is spread out evenly among the unfortunate denizens of the city. Being a Socialist I have no problem with homeless people actually using the Internet – it is a very great, wonderful tool that yes, will help the homeless find jobs. But that’s what public computers (which, by the way, I pay for in taxes some way or another, even if they are donations since donations are tax-deductible) are for.

    And by the way, in response to “Mr. Pitts researched the Buddhist leader on Wikipedia and copied the text onto his iPod”, I can only imagine the following:
    “Mommy can I have an iPod for my 9th birthday?”
    “No dear, it’s too expensive for Mommy and Daddy to afford.”
    “But Mommy Mommy! Even a homeless person can afford an iPod!”
    “… and a 17″ desktop replacement laptop that can hold a ridiculous number of movies!”
    “… and a Netflix subscription! AND Blockbuster!” (do note I actually would do what Mr. Ross does with his laptop on movies considering the article paints him as homeless and relatively happy about it (thus fitting into my original post’s #2 category) but I would use Torrents instead of Netflix and Blockbuster. Seriously – the MPAA’s going to sue a homeless guy, member of the socioeconomic group that stereotypically has the least-“deep pockets” possible? Hell I’d WANT it to happen because a) there’d be at least a few members of the press who’d get enough of a kick out of it to buy me dinner once I got a media circus going, and b) donations from the pirate community at large. Considering the fact that such a matter would only be a civil trial without my actual freedom at stake, what’ve I got to lose?

    TL:DR – I can’t spend 10 minutes to read a half-serious (well, 80% serious) humor piece that blash wrote because I figured (justifiably so) what the wall-o’-text was going to be about, and oh hurr hurr blash is a Socialist pig hurr hurr want some democracy and freedom fries with that bacon hurr hurr?

  5. SAM

    05/31/2009 at 10:36 pm

    There’s some people that choose to be homeless for
    reasons only known to them.

    A new concern is the people that end up homeless by no
    choice of their own due to the economy; job loss, paycuts, etc.

    I fyou are down and out, I’d think that internet access would be way down on your list. $65 bucks a montgh will buy lots of Ramen noodles…

  6. Dodot

    06/01/2009 at 6:35 pm

    1) San Francisco has rent control (right?) so the market for housing – and the issues that go with it, like homelessness – is a bit distorted.

    2) I have my doubts about the representativeness, vis-a-vis the population of homeless Americans/San Fransicans, of the personalities discussed in the article.

    That being said..

    Where else but in the US do we see something like this? ASTOUNDING.

  7. Xavier Lanier

    06/02/2009 at 2:25 pm

    yes we have rent control for the majority of units here in San Francisco. It’s nearly impossible to raise rent on most units and you in many buildings you’ll have one apartment renting for $500 a month and an identical one down the hall renting for $2000 or more.

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