Vancouver council to vote on expanding WiFi to Downtown Eastside

Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle to introduce a motion to expand free public WiFi to the Downtown Eastside, which will better connect the city’s most vulnerable to housing and other important resources. Cecilia Hua reports.

A Vancouver city councillor is calling for free WiFi in the Downtown Eastside to help unhoused people access supports.

Councillor Christine Boyle says she’s bringing the motion to council on Wednesday, in the hopes of better connecting the city’s most vulnerable residents to housing and other important resources.

Darcy Knape, a resident of a DTES single-residence occupancy building, says not having a phone or access to the internet makes him feel like he’s “in the wilderness.”

“It’s like being stuck in the middle of nowhere, you can’t be a part of humanity,” he said.

Knape adds even with the cheapest plans, his data would be gone within a day.

“If I had free internet, I probably could find a reasonable place to live,” he said. “But since I don’t, I can’t. There’s nothing I can do.”

Boyle says access to WiFi could mean more people can access telehealth, nurses’ hotlines or social services more easily.

“For someone who has been socially isolated or displaced, having that internet access helps connect to family and friends,” she added.

There are currently more than 500 free WiFi areas in the City of Vancouver, including the network #VanWiFi found in public libraries and city buildings — but connection in the DTES remains lacking.

DTES advocate Sarah Blyth agrees that people living in poverty often can’t access the services they need due to a lack of internet.

“It increases the poverty divide for people. If they don’t have internet, they can’t apply for jobs, they can’t apply for social housing,” Blyth said.

“The cold weather shelters are advertised online. People didn’t know where they were.”

Boyle says access to free WiFi not only benefits those living in poverty, but the rest of the city as well.

“Tourists coming into the city can use it to look up places to eat or get in touch with someone,” she said.

If the motion is passed, city staff should report back before the end of 2024 with a timeline and budget plan.

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