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New app: Homeless children

| November 18, 2010 8:00 PM

Press subscribers have gotten the idea by now that it's national Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Abounding articles and appeals from shelters, school and business food drives (the food bank is still short of turkeys, folks) serve to remind that "community" means helping those in need.

I wasn't going to add to the daily coverage, but an unusual story caught my eye. Regular readers of this column may recall my tirade against our overuse of Facebook and similar technologies' corresponding erosion of privacy and social intimacy. You wouldn't find me singing the praises of increasing Facebook addiction.

Except for street kids.

I stand corrected. My mind was opened by yet another surprising article in the Nov. 15 Christian Science Monitor - a great, neutral resource for thorough coverage of national and international news. Indonesia has found a new way to help its 150,000 homeless children stay safe at night: Facebook for a buck. Night is when things get really hairy for the most vulnerable populations of homeless. Sleeping under a bridge makes one a target for predation.

Internet cafes in Indonesia, encouraged by humanitarian organizations, have begun to offer 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. specials, allowing youth to spend evenings online with a cup of coffee and slice of bread for the equivalent of $1. Security cameras minimize access to inappropriate sites. Most stay on Facebook.

The successful experiment has apparently yielded more than a safe environment; kids feel less alone, more connected with the human race. It also provides them with someone who listens without judgment, a basic human need. A few are even learning English or other languages as they "friend" people in other countries.

The idea can be useful locally. Especially during cold winters communities can help the homeless by offering creative indoor options, 24/7. The Indonesian example reminds that it isn't just warmth and a hot meal; people need to connect with people.

Sholeh Patrick, J.D. is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Sholehjo@hotmail.com

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