Illegal downloads recently led GRACE Marketplace to pull the plug on providing free Wi-Fi for residents and campers at Dignity Village.
But during a service visit, a vendor found an unauthorized router, and that too has been shut off, sparking new complaints about the shelter’s lack of Wi-Fi and a lack of resources.
“We would love to be able to provide Wi-Fi out here, but we don’t have any IT support,” said Jonathan DeCarmine, GRACE Marketplace operations director. “We were notified by our Internet service provider that there were people downloading things illegally, and if we didn’t put an end to that, they would turn off Internet to the entire property, which would keep us from being able to do business and provide services.”
He said GRACE would be able to provide Wi-Fi if they could better manage Internet access. Though the center doesn’t have the means to hire IT support, DeCarmine would welcome a volunteer if someone in the community were willing to donate time or equipment to help find a solution.
Theresa Lowe, executive director of the North Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said she has no plans to turn the Wi-Fi back on. They had some security restrictions in place already, but people found ways around them. She said there can be hefty fees for illegal downloads, and that’s something the center can’t afford.
“We had a couple complaints from our provider and notified everyone, ‘please don’t do this, we’ll end up losing the service,’ and it happened again, so our decision was to disable the Wi-Fi because we would be charged,” Lowe said.
When Wi-Fi was available, most residents used their personal devices, but GRACE also has a computer lab, with five computers open for 12 hours per day. Users can access a computer for 15 minutes before their session times out, which could interrupt a job application or online class. However, longer sessions are available upon request.
Lowe said it’s a difficult situation because “the goal for anyone that’s living here is to leave, and the best way to do that is to increase your income either by finding a job or training.”
Some of the residents told WUFT the computer room is one of their favorite places to read and work. In February, GRACE will begin using one of its buildings as a classroom.
“We are working on getting it wired for Internet access, and then it will be furnished in a classroom style. We will have up to eight computers and different training in there. The first thing set for the beginning of February is a ‘Financial Fitness’ program and some other online things like resume and job training on campus,” Lowe said.
Those computers will be available only for job seeking and education training, while the original computer room will remain available for personal use.
Since Internet access in the area is limited within the fence, GRACE and Dignity Village residents have had to find Wi-Fi elsewhere at places like the Alachua County Library.