VICTORIA -- Vulnerable and homeless people across British Columbia could soon receive a smartphone to access support services and to stay connected with friends and family while practising physical distancing.

Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson says providing up to 3,500 smartphones for vulnerable people will give them easier access to services and helps them connect to others when public spaces are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simpson says 1,000 smartphones have already been distributed, with 200 provided to people moved to hotels from homeless encampments in Victoria and at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver.

The minister says community organizations that provide services and supports to vulnerable people are distributing the cellphones.

The phones can connect to Wi-Fi and include a pre-loaded $10 data card, giving people access to internet.

Lorraine Copas, executive director of the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C., says access to basic communication plays a central role in how people practise physical distancing that is required during the pandemic.