It has only been only one year, but it feels like 10. Not how fast time goes by while raising children. Not the rapid pace from one birthday to another. I am referring to the length of time this world has experienced integrating a thin piece of electronic glass and metal into our every day lives.
Remember those long lines outside Apple Stores? Remember those congratulatory high fives by young employees sporting Apple T-shirts when you walked out of the door with your brand new iPad? You felt like you just opened a Willy Wonka chocolate bar and found the golden ticket.
This appliance that Apple defines as magical has revolutionized how society operates. Universities issue textbooks via iPad rather than the local bookstore. Church-goers read the Bible through a plate of glass rather than between leather binding. Businessmen are tapping on glass while jetting from one city to another instead of keyboards. Restaurants issue iPads rather than printed menus. You would have to be a hermit to not see a person hugging his iPad. Literally.
People are starting to read books more. Watch the news. Kids want to learn. People want to buy. The world is talking to each other via Facebook and Twitter.
One year. My, how time flies when there is magic in the air.
I wonder if this magic could cross sectors? Reading, learning, buying, and talking is great. But what about helping someone find permanent housing? And I don't mean Zillow.com or Redfin.com. Could this appliance magically help a homeless person find a home or pad of his own? Now, that would truly redefine the definition of iPad. Think: My pad. My home.
But if you are on the extreme bottom of the economic ladder in this country, a $500 electronic device is just out of reach. Besides, if the homeless agencies I direct started passing out expensive iPads, most people would think we are crazy.
"Homeless people will just sell them for drugs!" I am sure jaded housed people would say. But in 2009, the Economic Roundtable studied nearly 10,000 homeless persons in Los Angeles County and discovered that the public cost (emergency rooms, public benefits, law enforcement) for these people was $2,897 per month.
$500 doesn't sound so high any more. So how could an iPad help a homeless person find permanent housing?
For many people who encounter homeless persons on a daily basis, a handheld device that lists where all the services and housing for homeless people are located would really be magical. While designing a plan to address homelessness in a region of Los Angeles County, we encountered numerous law enforcement agency leaders who told us, "We just don't know where to send homeless people for help."
An iPad app that provided a list of life-changing housing resources could help the local librarian, nurse, church secretary, police officer and crossing guard when they encounter a homeless person seeking help. Some computer-based websites teeter toward this solution, including 211LA.org, socialserve.com and idealistics.org.
An iPad filled with employment resources could change people lives. We all know housing and employment provides dignity for a person. An appliance that helps you write a resume, peruse job listings, and actually allows you to email letters and resumes to potential employers could transform the definition of employment training.
For many people living on the streets, homelessness means isolation. We all need a community of supporters, whether we are house-less or housed. Homeless advocate, Mark Horvath, created a very special online community for homeless folks via WeAreVisible.com. Wouldn't it be magical if truly supportive communities could be built on the streets with electronic devices that promote such online communities?
Apple says that the iPad is magical because it is a computer that can be held and touched. This is what those of us on the frontlines of homelessness value. We want to embrace people's lives so that they feel dignified, so that they have the will to overcome the barriers of the streets.
We want to touch people's lives with the gift of housing. A home provides security, dignity, protection, community, identity, and love.
A pad, a home is truly magical.