Nearly 100 community stakeholders joined HUD Secretary Juliaìn Castro, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II, Mayor Sly James and Housing Authority of Kansas City Executive Director Edwin Lowndes in a focused initiative to close the digital divide and expand access to high-speed broadband to families of public housing in Kansas City.
The event Monday afternoon at the Sprint Accelerator co-working space in the tech and creative Crossroads District of Kansas City was the nation’s first local symposium in any of the 28 communities for ConnectHome. The White House initiative aims to ensure that K-12 families of public housing are equipped to learn, work and live in a world driven by technology and Internet access.
“Rep. Cleaver was the first congressman who brought up to me the issue of connecting public housing to the Internet,” Secretary Castro said. “And your mayor understands what it takes to make sure all our residents have a better quality of life. Kansas City is doing it right.”
Rep. Cleaver recounted a recent visit to a public housing facility where he could not use his tablet computer because there was no wi-fi connection. He said residents were not even aware of wireless local area networks and their ability to connect homes, businesses and community centers to the Internet.
“Opportunities decline if you’re not online,” Rep. Cleaver said. “What we’re doing today will change lives.”
Mayor James said Kansas City participation in the White House ConnectHome Initiative will benefit those least likely to have digital access.
“The collaboration of several Kansas City and national organizations and the advocacy of Congressman Cleaver to bring technical skills and connectivity to residents of public housing will pay dividends by increasing quality of life and opportunities,” Mayor James said. “We are moving rapidly, and we need to do that so residents visualize their future in our city.”
Edwin Lowndes, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Greater Kansas City, described the gathering as one that includes representatives of the “three-legged stool” necessary to bring tech skills to everyone: high-speed Internet service, hardware to access it and training to use the programs and services on the Internet that are needed to function in the world today.
Major national and local companies and organizations also spoke to the summit before participants broke into small groups to discuss specific projects. National partners of ConnectHome in Kansas City include Sprint, Google Fiber, the American Library Association, PBS and KCPT Public Television, Everyone On, Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, Best Buy and Github.
The resources of these partner organizations will be used to bring public housing residents, including students K-12, a variety of support, including but not limited to broadband to the home, wi-fi borrowing through libraries and community centers, public housing computer labs, on-the-job training to refurbish computers and other hardware, training in the use of online programs to apply for jobs, Microsoft and Cisco certifications, coding training, education on making healthy food choices, and how to conduct research for school and work online.
Small groups at the ConnectHome summit discussed how to incorporate the ConnectHome resources into these projects and increase their access to residents of public housing. The Housing Authority also discussed a forthcoming survey to serve as a baseline for where connectivity and digital literacy stands for residents of public housing, which will assist the City and Housing Authority with determining how far this initiative moves the needle.
As programs, equipment and services will be implemented and made available to public housing residents, efforts will be made to measure and report improvements in closing the digital divide to the City, the Housing Authority, and HUD.