SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The founder of online classifieds site Craigslist has joined with the University of San Francisco to equip a computer lab catering to low-income and tech-challenged residents in the city’s Tenderloin District.
The Tenderloin Technology Lab is a program jointly run by St. Anthony’s and San Francisco Network Ministries in partnership with USF, offering basic computer classes as well as drop-in computer access hours for those in need.
In an age when personal computing options range from desktops to tablets to cell phones, it can be hard for most Bay Area residents to imagine a subset of the population that lacks even basic computer skills.
Not only does that population exist, its members face a “massive gap” in opportunities, both personally and professionally, said Karl Robillard, a spokesman for the nonprofit St. Anthony’s.
KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:
Thursday, the center unveiled its newly-refurbished lab, which includes 50 computers recently donated by USF.
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark also made a donation so the lab could buy more RAM space and upgrade all the software on the computers.
“The computers are used but are still in good condition,” Robillard said. “USF keeps its equipment state-of-the-art on campus, so when the computers are two or three years old, rather than get rid of them they identify community partners who they can donate to.”
About 15 USF students and staff also volunteer every semester to maintain the facility, keep the network operating smoothly, and teach month-long computing classes to clients.
Robillard said about 60 percent of the homeless and low-income clients who use the Tenderloin Technology Lab need computer training, while about 40 percent are familiar with the technology but don’t have access to printing or computing services.
The computing classes focus on getting clients comfortable with computers and teaching them basics such as sending e-mail and attachments and using Google calendar.
The lab’s volunteers also try to show clients why and how computers are relevant, including using them for job searches, transit schedules, and getting in touch with friends and family, Robillard said.
“We’ll say, ‘OK, where were you born?'” he explained. “They’ll say, ‘Fort Worth, Texas,’ so we’ll go to Google maps and pull up the street where they grew up. They’re absolutely fascinated.”
Robillard said it’s hard for people who are comfortable with technology to understand the need, but about 100 people use the Tenderloin Technology Lab daily. Those attending the computing classes tend to be over 35 and didn’t have access to technology growing up.
St. Anthony’s Foundation and San Francisco Network Ministries used to run separate computer labs, and in 2001, USF began donating manpower to the St. Anthony’s facility, Robillard said.
Starting in about 2005, demand for the lab shot up as job seekers began to realize they needed to apply online.
“All of a sudden people realized this method of pounding the pavement on foot wasn’t working,” Robillard said. “People bringing in paper resumes were getting turned away at the door.”
USF made an initial hardware donation of 50 computers in 2008, and this January, the school donated 50 more.
A spokeswoman for USF’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good said the students who work at the Tenderloin Technology Lab get to participate in service learning.
“The lab has benefited from a variety of contributions provided by USF service-learners, while in return providing students with opportunities to learn about the digital divide and other social issues directly addressed through its services,” spokeswoman Star Moore said in a statement.
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