some things to think about

23 07 2009

I got in contact with a member from the VPD who has experience w0rking with sex workers in the DTES.   Since a similar cell phone program has been done in the past, she brought up some challenges they’ve had to deal with and some things we should think about:

  • how to maintain a charged phone since many of these women are homeless or are very transient in their residency –> to address this, we have approached WISH drop-in centre to offer a place for these workers to charge their phones
  • some instances, phones were sold, lost or thrown away which would cause an environmental disservice

We hope to make these donated cell phones available to survival street workers in desperate need of a way to access help when they are in danger and a worker who would appreciate this tool.  Does this mean we should be screening the individuals we’re meaning to help?  We cannot control the worker from selling their cell phones.  If they do sell the phones, perhaps it’s because  don’t see the value in owning one.  Another problem is…would it put them at greater risk of robbery being seen with an electronic?




6 responses

24 07 2009

Interesting points to think about…I was wondering about the charging issue myself. It would be difficult to guarantee that these phones would be fully utilized, but at the same time it would be unfeasible to lock these workers into a contract.

I’m just wondering, if you’ve ever thought about providing the sex workers with some sort of pager, rather than a cell phone? (Like those ones with the button that you push if you fall down and you can’t get up…) It sounds a little farfetched, but perhaps this page could be directly connected to the police an then there wouldn’t be the concern of charging and theft.

Just a thought!

By the way, great work so far! I saw you guys promoting the cell phone donation concept today and I must say you guys were pretty good at drawing attention! Keep it up! 🙂

25 07 2009

Hummm those are definitely good points… The battery problem made me think of Shai Agassi whose an entrepreneur and he’s trying to change the way we use and think about electric cars. Basically what he’s offering is a service in which you would go to one of his stations and they would change your empty battery by a fully charged one in 3 min. Then you’re good to go just like with a car using gasoline. You can learn more at ( So, would it be possible to partner with an organization which is in touch with the sex workers on a daily basis and give them fully charged batteries? This way the women would have to come in, swap the battery and they’d be good to go? It would probably more work on your part to plan, but I guess it would increase the odds of the women using your cellphone?

For your second point, what if you guys offer the cell phone, but make the women go to you to get one? This way, chances are that only women who really want a cellphone will get one and therefore will take care of it. Also, what about engraving the name, address and phone number of your partner, so if the cellphone is found then good Samaritans can bring it back, or post it back to your partner. I can think of a couple of things that could also be done to limit the cellphones being sold or thrown away. For example you could have a spreadsheet in which you have every woman’s name with the serial number of their cellphone, so if they lose it, throw it or sell it you can know who the cellphone belongs to. A more obvious idea is to give cheap cellphones that don’t really have value and therefore would be less likely to be sold. I know of a program ( in which an American association refurbishes old cellphones to give them to poor African families. It would probably be possible to partner with a local company to do something similar. With a quick Google search I’ve found

Anyways just food for thoughts, what have you guys come up with so far to counter those problems?

25 07 2009

Thank you, Matt! Those are great ideas and definitely worth thinking about more. The only potential problem with getting new batteries each time is that most of our phones come from different companies so unless I’m mistaken, the battery packs will not be the same. Having women come to us for phones would be a good idea. If they really want one, they’ll take that extra step. However, we would want to keep it fairly accessible – ie. partner with an organization with which these women interact with on a regular basis. Having the name of that organization labeled on the phone is another great idea. Hopefully, if they get lost, they will make their way back to that organization, and a useful tool is not lost.

26 07 2009


I think the pager idea is a great one! People are probably less enticed to buy a page so it lower the chances of the workers wanting to sell it for money. I’m not sure if many people own pagers anymore so not sure if a pager-drive would be easier to implement. Nevertheless, I think it’s a great option to our plan. thank you!

26 07 2009

Hey guys,
It makes me really happy to see that your project has been this much successful. . I understand your concerns that these workers may not value the phones you’re giving them. But personally, I think it will have a positive impact. The genuine interest in helping these people is all that matters and i see that in your blog.

26 07 2009

Thanks! We really appreciate you support. =)

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