How Homeless People Use Technology: A Photo Essay On Street Poverty And Consumer Gadgets

ZigguratSteven TweedieYou’ll get to meet Mux later in this story.

It could be easy to assume that those living on the streets of New York City don’t own any gadgets, but that’s not always the case.

Over the course of two weeks last year, we interviewed dozens of homeless people to find out what kind of consumer electronics they own — and more importantly, what they use them for.

From laptops and iPhones, to government-provided phones, it quickly became clear that many homeless people use gadgets to stay connected, search for jobs, and pursue their own creative interests.

Note: All people shown have given their permission for us to take their picture, though some requested we not show their faces.

This is Calvin, who owns both a Dell Inspiron laptop and a Samsung smartphone.

Calvin uses his phone mostly for listening to music, and if he turns down the graphics settings on his laptop, he can run most modern games. 'I can run 'Oblivion' or 'Skyrim' just fine,' he said.

'King' is originally from Virginia. While he has been in New York for most of his life, King is trying to change that. 'I'm trying to move away as we speak,' he said. 'I would like to go to North Carolina.'

King uses a Blackberry that a stranger gave him (after the stranger upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S3). 'I want to get on Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff,' he said. King also uses mobile email to find odd jobs.

Mux is a NYC native who uses his Toshiba Satellite laptop to mix music using a program called Camtasia. When asked about his favourite music, Mux quickly said, 'Dean Martin, my favourite album is his love songs.'

Mux also uses his Toshiba laptop for gaming. He plays 'Sims 3,' 'Skyrim,' and 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.'

To boost his laptop's sound, Mux uses a portable speaker.

Mux's friend goes by 'Ziggurat.' He moved from Florida to New York three years ago, needing a change of scenery. 'Small town thing gets old after a while,' he said, before talking about how many perfectly functional electronics are thrown away in NYC. 'Sometimes when I'm digging through trash, I'll find brand new laptops, still in boxes.'

Ziggurat owns a white iPhone 4. His favourite apps are 'Happy Street,' 'Robot Unicorn Attack 2,' and 'The Simpsons: Tapped Out.'

Meet Jon. Jon travels the nation playing music, but likes to spend his summers in New York. He is currently in the final stages of signing up for low-cost housing.

Jon owns a Verizon Pantech smartphone. He uses it to monitor his band's Facebook page and keep up to date with music website Bandcamp.

This is the corner where Tony usually spends his afternoons.

Tony says that owning an expensive backpack actually works against street donations, as people assume he is too well off to warrant help.

He owns a Sanyo phone he purchased from CVS, which he uses to go online and check Craigslist and Backpage for job listings. 'If a listing doesn't have a phone number, I skip over it,' he said. 'A lot of it's just spam to get your email.'

Charles was born in New York. He served as a Marine for 15 years before returning to the city. 'It was a mistake, but I had to do it,' he said, referring to his return to the city. He would one day like to live in Europe.

Charles owns two phones: a pre-paid LG flip phone, and a government-issued phone that comes with 250 free minutes and 250 texts a month.

Darryl has been in the city since 2005. 'I came to New York to get back together with my boyfriend,' he said. 'But when I got here I found he wasn't here, he was in Philadelphia with someone else.'

Darryl has a Virgin Mobile Kyocera phone, which he uses mostly for texting.

Malcolm has been in Manhattan for five years, after originally moving to the city from San Francisco to stay off the radar. 'Lost my job,' he said. 'Bit of a disgrace, wanted to go somewhere anonymous.' He now runs a small book store on the sidewalk, which he hopes to take online.

Malcolm owns a basic Samsung TracFone, which he purchased last fall.

Kyle has lived in New York his entire life, serving as a Marine for nine years before returning to Manhattan.

Kyle uses a portable AM/FM radio to listen to ESPN End Zone and other stations.

Brent works in cycles. He collects one day to fund the next day of job hunting and interviews.

He uses his AT&T smartphone primarily for texting and job interviews.

Interested in exploring more of New York City?

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