Bridging the Digital Divide – WiFi Accessibility

New York has long been a leader in ensuring that its individuals experiencing homelessness have access to shelter, yet thousands of residents in temporary housing lack basic internet access. The consequences of this stark digital divide on the lives of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness is devastating. These individuals and families are unable to search and apply for permanent housing and jobs, participate in remote schooling, apply for government benefits, stay connected to friends and family, access basic entertainment, or obtain necessary medical care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly exacerbated the barriers resulting from the digital divide, raising the stakes to literally life-or-death. The need to use internet-based applications is vital, as in-person access to everything from city offices and classrooms to real estate listings is accessible almost exclusively online, and such online access is preferred given the continuing public health risks of unnecessary in-person contact. This is also a racial justice issue, as Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are disproportionately represented among those experiencing homelessness and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) has documented this problem in a report “Homeless Need Internet Access To Find a Home: How Access to Internet and Technology Resources can Support Homeless Families Transition out of Homeless Shelters”. This report and its recommendations have been endorsed by a wide range of organizations, including law firms, legal services providers and community groups.

Click here for a full recap of the first year of the #Wifi4Homeless campaign.

Help Us Close New York’s Digital Divide! Urge Action Before the End of Session!

Legislation has been introduced by Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Karines Reyes (A.8552-B/S.3593-C) that would ensure internet access for all individuals residing in temporary housing, with the cost covered by the State.  Under the bill, temporary housing (which we refer to generally as “shelters” for the sake of this alert) would include but not be limited to, shelters for adults, shelters for adult families, small-capacity shelters, shelters for families with children, domestic violence shelters, runaway and homeless youth shelters, shelters in hotels or shelters for refugees. This bill would represent a huge step towards closing the digital divide by ensuring that all shelter residents across New York State are finally guaranteed reliable internet access. 

All New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and residing in shelters face immediate, pressing needs for reliable internet access that must be addressed.   

The City Bar is urging the State Legislature and Governor Hochul to enact A.8552-B / S.3593-C to ensure that all State-funded temporary housing facilities have reliable internet access.


  • Send an email or make a short phone call to your State representatives to urge them to ensure that internet access is provided to residents of shelters by supporting A.8552-A/S.3593-C. Your message doesn’t need to be long, it just needs to say (1) that you support closing the digital divide by all New Yorkers experiencing homelessness have access to reliable internet in their shelters; and (2) that as their constituent, you urge them to support A.8552-B / S.3593-C for passage BEFORE THE END OF SESSION ON JUNE 2.
    • For more information and helpful talking points, please see the “Resources” section below.
    • To find your State representatives and how to contact them, click on the following links: Assembly | Senate.
    • Consider also contacting key legislators urging them to take action on the bill.  Click here for a list of legislators, how to contact them and why they need to hear from you.
  • Engage on social media. Join the conversation by expressing your support for closing the digital divide. Use your social media to raise awareness of the issue, engage with policymakers, and encourage your network to do the same. Follow and use the hashtag #WiFi4Homeless in your posts. Click here for some sample posts.
  • Provide organizational support. It is important that legislators hear not just from individuals, but related stakeholders about the need for this legislation. Organizations that want to indicate their support for this bill can:
    1. Write their own report or letter in support of the bill and direct it to the key legislators indicated here.  Please feel free to cite any of the resources provided below.
    2. Sign on to a joint support memo issued by advocates; click here to read the memo. Please contact Elizabeth Kocienda at if you are interested in adding your organization to the joint support memo.



Elizabeth Kocienda, Director of Advocacy,

First issued October 2020; this alert will be updated as needed to reflect updates in the campaign.