Wi-Fi? Why not? Homeless are avid users of free web kiosks

The Wi-Fi program is a public-private initiative run by CityBridge.The first units were installed in January, there are now about 350, mainly in Manhattan. (File photo: Reuters)

An effort to replace obsolete pay phones with Wi-Fi kiosks that offer free web surfing and phone calls has been a hit with panhandlers and the homeless, the least wired people in the city.

The city doesn’t track who’s using the new LinkNYC terminals, but anecdotal evidence suggests many users are living on the streets. On several recent weekdays, people wearing plastic garbage bags or hauling dented shopping carts were hunkered down at terminals.

“It’s free. That’s the best part about it,” said a tall man drinking a beer out of a paper bag as he watched an R. Kelly video at a terminal in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

The man, who would give only his street name, Beef Stew, said that besides listening to music he uses the sidewalk kiosks to charge his phone.

Matthew Kane was sitting in front of a LinkNYC kiosk last week charging his phone and holding a cardboard sign that said, “She Had a Better Lawyer.” The sign was effective: One man gave Kane a $20 bill and another gave him a slice of pizza during the space of a five-minute conversation.

Kane, who said he was staying with acquaintances “here and there,” guessed about half of the people he sees using the kiosks are homeless.

“It keeps people connected to the rest of reality,” he said.

The Wi-Fi program is a public-private initiative run by CityBridge, a consortium of tech companies.

The first units were installed in January. There are now about 350, mainly in Manhattan, with plans for 7,500 or more throughout the city.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:52 - GMT 06:52