cell phones help the poor in Niger, India, and … DC

I’ve been impressed by how cell phones have helped poor farmers in Niger find the best prices to sell their grain and helped poor fishers in India to find the best markets for their fish.  So I was interested to see how the homeless of Washington, DC, are using cell phones to help their situation:

“Having a phone isn’t even a privilege anymore — it’s a necessity,” said Rommel McBride, 50, who spent about six years on the streets before recently being placed in a city housing program. He has had a mobile phone for a year. “A cellphone is the only way you can call to keep up with your food stamps, your housing application, your job. When you’re living in a shelter or sleeping on the streets, it’s your last line of communication with the world.”

And here is one story about how a cell phone transformed employment opportunities for a homeless guy:

Chris got an entry-level job at Verizon Center last year. He tried to get back on his feet, but each time, he missed calls from his boss, who often dialed a soup kitchen or shelter switchboard. Eventually, he was labeled unreliable and lost the job.

This time, he got a pay-as-you-go cellphone and gave his boss the number. “I live up near the Capitol — give me a call anytime if you need extra hands,” he told his employer, being vague about where he bedded down each night.

He received numerous calls to come in early or to work an extra shift. After less than a year on the job, he was promoted. “No one there knows I’m homeless,” he said. “I would never have been able to do this without the cellphone.”

Just as with conditional cash transfers which were proven in Mexico and now are being tried in New York, some of the same solutions work all over.

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