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New Study Shows Cell Phone Are Essential Lifeline For Bay Area Homeless

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The majority of homeless people living in the Bay Area have cell phones or permanent access to a cell phone, which serves as an important lifeline to many services, according to a new study.

"It's no longer a luxury. It's a necessity," said Kelley Cutler, the Human Rights Organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness.

A study published by UCSF specifically looked at homeless individuals age 50 years and older and found 72 percent have cell phones or permanent access to a cell phone. 36 percent have smart phones.

But 94 percent do not have an annual plan, which means they're using temporary phones and their number changes every month or so.

"Imagine if your phone number changed every 25 days. It just makes an already difficult life that much harder," Dr. Margot Kushel, a senior author of the UCSF study said.

She concluded access to stable phone numbers could improve healthcare, access to housing and reduce social isolation.

"It can lead to missed opportunities," Cutler said.

Cutler says she regularly cannot reach people to pass along the good news that the Coalition has found permanent housing for them.

"I call and the number has been changed. It's an ongoing problem," Cutler said.

"I've lost housing that way," Jackie Adger said from her tent on Turk street. She spends the majority of her income on her cell phone plan.

"I pay $90 a month. It's the only way to communicate with my family. It's the way for people to contact me," Adger said.

Down the street from where she sleeps is a vendor distributing free phones through a public program called Lifeline, often referred to as "Obama phones."

Individuals who prove they are low income through MediCal or Food Stamps can receive a basic phone with voice and text. Adger says she's had one before, but it didn't last long.

The program has criticized by the Trump administration for being at risk for fraud. It's up for review and could lose funding in December of 2020.

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