Diversity & Inclusion
Digital access / Internet / Nonprofits

Women’s Housing Coalition builds its own bridge across the digital divide

WHC, which serves people who have experienced homelessness, brought free internet access and devices to its four buildings, and over 90 residents.

Inside the computer lab at WHC's Calverton House. (Courtesy Photo)

Through a recently-completed project, the Women’s Housing Coalition (WHC) is providing free WI-FI for over 90 residents in its four Baltimore housing facilities.

WHC provides affordable housing and supportive services to people who have experienced homelessness, especially those with disabilities. The free Wi-Fi program started in August of 2020 at a WHC building called The Linden in Reservoir Hill, and expanded to WHC’s other three facilities in Old Goucher, Charles Village, and downtown Baltimore through a $25,000 grant from the Abell Foundation. Installations were completed by UrCameraGuy, a local black-owned business run by Tommy Watkins. A $20,000 grant from the Franck-Merrick Foundation went toward providing loaner laptops for WHC residents.

Like libraries, the computer labs in the buildings owned by WHC typically see heavy use, and these resources were shut down when the pandemic hit.

“It became really apparent that [the women in WHC programs] couldn’t go to their doctors appointments, see their therapists, renew their housing,” said Beth Benner, WHC’s executive director. “To be successful in today’s world — not just to be successful in getting a job, to be successful in surviving — there’s so much you need to have access to.”

The Abell Foundation defined low-income as folks making $25,000 a year in its recent reports on the digital divide. For the community WHC services, that’s high-income. A person accessing benefits through the Temporary Disability Assistance Program is living off $150 a month plus SNAP benefits, according to Benner. This is the income level, if there’s any at all, of the residents who come to WHC.

“Not having access to the internet is just not an option for anyone anymore, and the cost can make it prohibitive for low-income Baltimoreans,” said Benner. “How we get them access to [devices] is really a daily requirement to success in the world.”

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

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