“It’s a piece of empowerment” – how YWCA Hamilton’s Callback program helps provide cell phones to those in need

Quick escape link leading to Weather Network websiteQuick Escape Mubarak in front of his store

Imagine fleeing an abuser and needing to call someone for help. Or a newcomer overcoming a language barrier who happens to get lost in the community. Or a woman who lives on the street who wants to document the violence she may encounter.

Now, imagine trying to navigate those situations without a cell phone.

Cell phones have become a necessity of modern-day life – particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, when so many services and supports have pivoted online. But for many of the residents and patrons of YWCA Hamilton’s housing programs, the cost to purchase and maintain a cell phone can be prohibitive.

That’s why YWCA Hamilton launched the Callback Program, which provides used cell phones and tablets to women and non-binary people accessing our housing programs. We have partnered with cell phone stores across Southern Ontario to accept used smartphones and tablets from community members at several different locations. The devices are then restored to their original factory settings and donated back to YWCA for distribution.

Mubarak Virani is the owner of Wireless Whiz on Upper Wentworth Street and one of our Callback Program partners. He says he is happy to participate in the program for several reasons – to help keep phones out of landfills, to support YWCA Hamilton, and to provide an essential service to someone in need.

“The phone gets another life, and on top of that, it’s with a person who needs it the most,” he said. “It’s really a life-changing thing, because that phone will help her get a job, talk to her family – and especially in this crazy time tight now, we need to talk to people,” he said.

The importance of having access to a cell phone varies depending on the unique circumstances of each person who access YWCA Hamilton’s services, said Amy Deschamps, Manager of Transitional Housing at YWCA Hamilton.

“When we’re looking at this issue intersectionally, we can see how much impact that has on a variety of folks in different ways,” she said.

For example, Amy points out that many people who access our housing programs are newcomers to Canada who may be learning English as a second language. Having access to quick translation programs on a cell phone allows those residents to communicate with staff or navigate other services or programs.

“If they get lost in the community, they can use that to communicate with bus drivers, for example – just really basic things that we take for granted,” she said.

For the residents of our Transitional Living Program, which provides a home for up to eleven months for women and women-identifying individuals at risk, a cell phone is an essential tool that helps residents rebuild their lives.

“A lot of work that we’re doing in Transitional Living is trying to get them back to a place of stability – so that means getting doctors appointments, getting ID, arranging counselling. It can be really challenging to coordinate that without a phone – especially when we are trying to promote independence and self-advocacy,” she said.

Amy also points out that cell phones are a crucial part of securing permanent housing for the residents of the Transitional Living Program, particularly in Hamilton’s competitive rental market – being able to make regular calls to view units, for example, or to accept any potential offers before the apartment is rented to someone else.

For women and non-binary people experiencing homelessness who access Carole Anne’s Place, our overnight emergency drop-in centre for women, cell phones provide a completely different type of support.

“For folks living on the street, what we have seen is such an extreme amount of violence that women are facing. So the inability to have a cell phone for safety, to record and document things that are happening, or injuries that have taken place – or to access shelters – has a huge impact,” she said.

Similarly, for the residents of Phoenix Place, our shelter for women and children fleeing violence, cell phones play an important part in their safety plans. Often, abusers will control their partners’ access to phones or technology, or use their phone to track their movements in the community – which means that survivors often need a completely new device once they are separated from their abuser.

“Having the ability to have a completely new number, and being to block information, is another key safety piece,” she said.

Regardless of the unique challenges and needs facing each person accessing YWCA Hamilton’s housing programs, a cell phone is a key component of living a safe, independent, and connected life.

“Technology is more than just a phone – it’s a lifeline,” Amy said. “It’s a piece of empowerment.”

If you have a device that could be useful to one of the women in our programs, please consider donating to the Callback Program. To learn more about where to donate your tablets and cell phones, please visit our donations page to find a drop-off location near you.

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