Empowering shelter staff and clients in Cheyenne with high-speed Internet
The Cooperative Ministry for Emergency Assistance (COMEA) in Cheyenne, Wyoming, provides safe and secure shelter, meals, and other support to homeless men, women, and children of Laramie County. Microsoft worked with COMEA and HarborTech Mobility to plan a robust, modern, and managed wireless network for the shelter.
The Cooperative Ministry for Emergency Assistance (COMEA) in Cheyenne, Wyoming, provides safe and secure shelter, meals, and other support to homeless men, women, and children of Laramie County. COMEA primarily relies on donations to support its mission—donations of supplies for the clients, as well as donations of equipment and funds to keep the shelter running.
The facility’s wireless network was in dire need of an upgrade. The staff depends on technology to support shelter operations, but the hardware supporting their network was a limited patchwork of donated—which is to say, used or old—equipment installed by various volunteers over time. The shelter’s woefully insufficient system hindered staff’s ability to do things such as fill out grant applications, provide residents with access to job training resources, and provide sufficient security to the facility. “I would come to work and just pray that I could get into my email. At least twice a week, I would have to pull it up on my phone,” said COMEA Executive Director Robin Bocanegra.
Upgrading technology to improve operations and maximize access to resources
Microsoft saw an opportunity to help the shelter by overhauling their network. In 2018, the Microsoft Community Broadband team worked with COMEA and HarborTech Mobility, a wireless consultant, to plan a robust, modern, and managed wireless network for the shelter. The configuration created two private networks: one that is both readily accessible and highly secure for the COMEA staff to execute their administrative duties; and a second, separate network for residents and visitors with COMEA-defined standards for content access and acceptable use. HarborTech negotiated hardware cost reductions to minimize financial expenditures. In addition to funding the hardware itself, Microsoft contracted HarborTech to provide go-live support and ongoing services for the upgraded networks, ensuring a positive user experience.
Expanding available services to residents in need
COMEA House was founded in 1965 by local churches, and the first shelter facility opened in 1982. Starting with a small emergency shelter simply to provide folks with a warm place to stay the night, get a cup of coffee and a light snack, COMEA’s services have grown over the years. In 2018, COMEA provided 31,000 bed-nights of shelter and served over 47,000 meals.
COMEA relies heavily on grants and works closely with other service providers to address their clients’ needs. In early 2018, Microsoft donated $65,000 to help fund COMEA’s operations. According to Bocanegra, “Being able to come to work and knowing that we can correspond with people, that we can get our grant information sent before the network upgrade, I can’t tell you how many times we would have a deadline for a grant and then come to work and we couldn’t even get online to get everything sent off.”
COMEA’s services include its Journey, Pay-to-Stay, and Transitional Living programs. These programs go beyond the basic emergency shelter service to help clients return to the workforce, regain self-sufficiency, and find permanent homes. Caseworkers also help clients get treatment for physical or mental health issues that may be contributing to their homelessness.
Improving access to online service offerings
The new professional-grade business network is a game-changer for COMEA. The shelter now can provide internet access to all its residents who have cell phones or other mobile devices, while also automatically shutting the connection down between 9 PM and 6 AM to manage quiet hours. Connectivity is available in both the shelter and COMEA’s transitional apartments.
Meanwhile, the highly secure administrative network has enabled the business office to increase its productivity. As one administrator said, “It is truly amazing I didn’t have Wi-Fi in my office before and kept draining my data, but now I don’t have to worry!”
Another COMEA administrator summed up the impact of the project: “Thank you for all that you have done to help COMEA. We are so grateful. You have made a huge difference for everyone in our business office, and for our residents.”
COMEA hopes to use their updated network to integrate the use of telemedicine into their service offerings. Also, now that they have consistent connectivity, they are exploring the opportunity to offer computer literacy courses to their clients, providing a path to greater job opportunities.
“Being able to come to work and knowing that we can correspond with people, that we can get our grant information sent - before the network upgrade, I can't tell you how many times we would have a deadline for a grant and then come to work and we couldn't even get online to get everything sent off.”COMEA Executive Director, Robin Bocanegra