Mar 8, 2013 8:51 PM by Connie Tran, KSBY News

Free cell phones to be available to homeless people

Cell phones are an accessory that nearly everyone has, but not all can afford. Soon enough though, homeless Californians, or those who make less than approximately $15,000, will be able to get one for free.

The California Public Utilities Commission said taxpayers essentially will be footing the bill. The free cell phones are part of the California Lifeline Program, subsidized by the Federal Government. Last Thursday, the CPUC approved proposals by Virgin Mobile USA's Assurance Wireless and Nexus Communications' Reach Out Wireless to be a part of the free cell phone program. Some homeless people in San Luis Obispo are already signing up to see if they are eligible.

Traci Bullock, who has been homeless in San Luis Obispo since July 2012, said she needs a cell phone for a multitude of reasons.

"For safety reasons, I need to be able to contact someone that I know nearby if I need help," said Bullock.

Dee Torres, the Homeless Services Director for CAPSLO, said she believes the free cell phones will be more than just an emergency lifeline to the homeless community.

"Helps with job searches and things like that, if you don't have an address, or you don't have a telephone, it's impossible to connect with employers," said Torres.

The CPUC said the free phones will be equipped with 250 monthly minutes and texts, but applicants have to prove they're already part of an emergency program, such as Medicaid/Medi-Cal, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance or Section 8, or Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC).

"For me, it was a copy of my food stamp card, that was qualification enough," said Bullock.

Bullock said a free cell phone will be able to help her get in contact with employers. She hopes finding a job will then help her get out of her homeless situation.

Torres said like with any government program, there may be those who take advantage of it, but she believes the benefits from this free cell phone program far outweigh those risks.

For more information, click the links to Assurance Wireless and Reach Out Wireless, which offer the service.

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