A local initiative is helping to bridge the digital divide for some of the city’s most vulnerable and at-risk residents.
The New Westminster Police Department and the Electronic Recycling Association are providing 35 electronic devices to the clients of the Lower Mainland Purpose Society for Youth and Families, Dress for Success Vancouver, Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver and the Delta Stroke Recovery Society.
Sydney Andrews, a project coordinator for the Purpose Society community action team (CAT) program, said the society appreciates the donation of laptops. She said they’ll greatly benefit its digital inclusion project, which aims to bridge the “significant digital divide” experienced by people who are experiencing homelessness or are among the at-risk and vulnerable populations within the community.
“It’s so important; especially in the times of COVID when people don’t have access to the same services they once did,” she said. “The doctors are online. Any appointments you try and make these days are really online.”
Attending a media event at the police station, Andrews said the laptops will be taken to the Purpose Society where one of its peer support workers, will refurbish them and then redistribute them to people who are in need. She said the society launched the digital inclusion program as a pilot project in 2020.
“We helped 224 clients last year and we also redistributed over 200 devices – cell phones, laptops, tablets – to people within our New West community,” she said.
In March, the NWPD and Electronics Recycling Association teamed up to offer an electronics recycling event at city hall as part of Fraud Prevention Month. In addition to providing a way to dispose of unwanted electronics, while also ensuring personal information was protected, it served as an opportunity to get the devices into the hands of folks in need of technology.
Amrit Hundal, the NWPD’s crime prevention coordinator, said the NWPD was overwhelmed by the community’s support for the event. She said 100 laptops, 15 printers, 51 computers, five servers and other miscellaneous items were collected at the event.
“We actually ended up receiving a lot more donations than were anticipated,” she said. “So much that we had to shut down an hour early because the truck was too full.”
Hundal noted that all items were “shredded” of their personal information on-site.
“I think one of the main reasons why people hesitate to donate things is because they contain a lot of personal information,” she told the Record. “The thing with the ERA is they had onsite shredders which allowed people to remove the hard drives. We were helping them remove the hard drives, putting them aside where they were being shredded.”
On May, 19, the NWPD and the ERA presented the Purpose Society with 28 laptops. Four laptops were distributed to Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, one laptop will go to the Delta Stroke Recovery Society, and one laptop and one desktop computer were given to Dress for Success Vancouver.
Hundal said the Electronics Recycling Association helped determined where the devices would be donated, as it has a list of organizations in need of technology.
“Viewing regular access to a personal computer as a non-essential luxury is a thing of the past,” said a notice about the program. “Even basic activities now require the use of a computer; applying for a job, completing school work, staying in touch with family or even something as simple as looking up a bus route is difficult without a computer.”
The Electronic Recycling Association is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 to address the growing problem of e-waste and the increasing ‘digital divide.’ It’s developed a charitable computer donation program to address that growing problem.
Hundal said the police department was happy to help get people’s old devices into the hands of people who can use them and to keep them out of the garbage. She said the NWPD hopes to work with the association to host regular collection events.
“Hopefully in the summer we can host another event,” she said.