boy in headphones playing video game on laptop

The city of Avondale’s Neighborhood & Family Services is introducing two programs in response to the digital divide and homelessness caused by the pandemic. 

The School Hotspot and Temporary Shelter programs are two additions to the city’s 2021 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

The city is finalizing the details of the programs, but Chris Lopez, Avondale’s director of neighborhood and family services, said, “We know that there is a digital divide.

“There were a lot of students even pre-COVID who were without sufficient internet. We want to make that available so kids get caught up and meet their educational objectives.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided $426,811 in the first round of funding in CDBG CARES Act funding to the city of Avondale of the 2021 fiscal year. In the third round of funding, the city received an additional $606,152.

CDBG funding is expected to carry out activities that benefit low- to moderate-income residents or meet an urgent need caused by the coronavirus.

The School Hotspot Program will be allocated $110,000 and the Temporary Shelter program will receive $85,000.

“The funding is anticipated to account for a percentage of existing needs as determined by the most recently available data from the U.S. Census,” said Marsha Chavez, Avondale’s housing and community development manager. 

The School Hotspot Program will allow students without internet at home to use a mobile hotspot device. The city anticipates serving a minimum of 100 students. Hotspots are available for a one-year subscription. Devices will be monitored to ensure they are used only for educational purposes.

The city will partner with public school districts to determine students in need of a mobile hotspot. Avondale will continue providing Wi-Fi at public libraries for students who may not be eligible for mobile hotspots.

Additionally, the Temporary Shelter program will provide housing to individuals struggling through coronavirus-caused homelessness. Homeless individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 can also receive proper quarantine.

A city council report on the program states, “This may include quarantine due to COVID testing, diagnosis or other related temporary shelter needs to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.” 

The city intends to partner with local homeless service providers. Twenty-five to 35 individuals or family units are projected to benefit from the program.

“We see an urgent need to assist nonprofit organizations that provide shelter to the homeless population,” Lopez said.