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Dec 26, 2023

100 laptops will get formerly unhoused online for job search

Computers and internet access will be loaned out in a collaborative project aimed at overcoming a key obstacle to employment.

From left, Chris Martin and Jodi Martin of “give IT. get IT.,” Rod Mahoua of the Quality Housing Coalition and Clara McCool of GPCOG with one of the 100 refurbished laptops ready for delivery. Contributed / GPCOG

Two Portland organizations are working to combat one of the challenges faced by formerly unhoused people who are looking for work – a lack of internet and computer access.

The Quality Housing Coalition and the Greater Portland Council of Governments plan to distribute 100 refurbished laptops to people who are enrolled in the coalition’s Project Home to Profession program, which secures permanent housing for homeless people and provides them with employment services.

“Almost all job applications and opportunities are online,” said Clara McCool, who manages GPCOG’s Regional Broadband Program, which is funding the laptop project through the Maine Connectivity Authority.

Even beyond the application process, she said, people need email accounts where they can be easily reached for follow-up, and a lot of job interviews are being held over Zoom.

“Almost all of having sustainable employment now is having regular and consistent access to a device and internet,” McCool said.

In focus groups, GPCOG got feedback on the difficulties of relying on public computers for job searches and other personal business.

People talked about standing in line for hours at the bank just to check their account balances because they didn’t have private devices with which to check online, McCool said.

Many people also don’t feel comfortable using public computers for things like banking, accessing medical information or making appointments.

Also importantly, she said, of the 200 households served by Quality Housing Coalition, about 70% are asylum seekers who need to access immigration and citizenship forms online as well as resources to learn English.

“A lot of these families have kids who come home and have to do schoolwork online,” she added.

The laptops were purchased from “give IT. get IT.,” a Maine-based nonprofit that provides user training and support.

“It will be a long-term loaning system, so (recipients will) keep the device for as long as they need it,” McCool said. “Once they start working and have a more sustainable income, there can be some support to help them purchase a new device for the future.”

The organizations also plan to lend people hot spots, she said, to help those who don’t have private internet access, and offer training on internet safety.

“This partnership is essential for fostering digital inclusion, supporting education, enhancing employability, promoting community connectivity, improving health access and advancing social equity,” said Rod Mahoua, director of programs at the Quality Housing Coalition. “It will empower people to fully participate in the digital world.”

The housing coalition also plans to give laptops and free Wi-Fi to 20 single mothers served by Trust, its direct cash assistance program.

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