Advocates help distribute free cellphones to homeless in Inland Empire

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- As the number of homeless on Southland streets continues to grow, so does the need for services, food, shelter -- and a phone.

"It's hard, it's very hard out here," said Lucinda Luna of San Bernardino, who lost her husband just two months ago. Now, she and her two children are homeless.

"He provided for us," said Luna. "Now I feel so lost and so alone."

She's not entirely alone, thanks to a federally subsidized smartphone. She uses it to keep in touch with family, look for a job and find housing, and keep in touch with her children while they're at school.

"The school calls me and lets me know about my kids, if they're OK," Luna said. "And jobs, housing."

The program itself isn't new. The federal subsidies are paid for by the Universal Service Fund, which was created under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. President Barack Obama expanded the program to include cellphones in 2008. As such, many refer to the phones as "Obama phones."

Not everyone is eligible.

"A lot of them have no ID, so they won't qualify," said Joel Orozco of San Bernardino, who helps his wife in distributing phones to homeless encampments throughout the Inland Empire.

"Some don't have IDs. Some don't meet the qualifications," his wife said.

But while it's a struggle, when they're able to successfully get a phone to someone in need, it's worth it.

"They get right on the phone and start calling people," she said. "They get all happy and that's what makes my job great."

Access to a phone isn't everything. One problem is: Where do you charge it? Others have reported their phones being stolen.
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