Thursday, April 30, 2009

CVM Helps Inmates and Public Defenders Connect

In the movies, it's usually pretty easy for defense attorneys to visit their clients in jail, and they always have something hugely critical to tell them. In reality, it takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the attorney, the staff at the jail, and even the in-custody client to meet. And frequently, the information the attorney needs to provide to her client is routine information about court schedules and future meetings. This is a classic case of moving people to information instead of making it easy to move information to people, with everyone (including the jail system) spending unnecessary time and money as a result.

Through an initiative launched this month, public defenders in King County (WA) will now be able to communicate via voice mail with their in-custody clients. This project is being implemented by Community Voice Mail National Office (CVM), Seattle CVM (hosted by Solid Ground), the Northwest Defenders Association (NDA) and the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD).

NDA attorneys and paralegals are assigning private CVM voice mail boxes to their in-custody clients. Attorneys and paralegals leave private messages for clients on the voice mail which the clients check regularly from the phone in the jail. They simply type in a speed dial code, their voice mail box extension and a unique password to access the messages.

The communication is one-way only – providing the attorneys with a quick, efficient way to get short messages to their clients about upcoming hearings and meetings thus saving them time and money usually expended by trips to the jail. The service is a great supplement to in-person visits with clients.

While in-custody clients are prevented from using their CVM box for any purpose other than to receive messages from their attorney (via several security measures in place to ensure the system is used solely for its intended purpose), those who lack a reliable phone with private messaging can get access to a fully functioning CVM number upon their release from jail from the NDA.

The first voice mail box was distributed on April 6, 2009 and as of April 27, 28 boxes are currently in use. CVM National and the King County DAJD have plans to make this service available to other local defender organizations once the pilot phase is completed.

CVM Partnering with the CDC on H1N1 Flu Virus Awareness

As we did with the peanut-containing product recall in February, Community Voice Mail is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide accurate information to our clients about the outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus (formerly known as "swine flu virus"). Nearly 60% of Community Voice Mail clients around the country are homeless or at-risk of homelessness, and good health-related information is sometimes hard to come by. If you don't have a place to live, it's hard to access information, so we send it to our clients directly.

Using text approved by the CDC, we're sending broadcast voice messages to more than 15,000 clients, and email messages to 2,500 clients who have provided us with their addresses. We've also sent email and voice messages to our contacts at the 2,000 social service agencies that provide CVM in 45 cities around the country. As information changes and we're updated by the CDC, we'll send new messages through our network. You can listen to one of the broadcast voice messages we sent here.

When we sent the peanut-recall message in February, we received hundreds of voice responses from clients saying they wanted more health-related messages sent to them. We plan to continue our collaboration with the CDC and other great sources of health information.

Here are a couple authoritative resources about the H1N1 flu virus outbreak:

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Invisible Man

In an effort to make a homeless person "visible" to people passing him on the sidewalk, filmmakers in Düsseldorf, Germany projected video of a street scene on a homeless man, making him appear transparent. Brilliant stuff.

(Film created by Euro RSCG Duesseldorf. Appreciation to TimG for pointing us to it)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

CVM Success in Summit County, Ohio

The Akron Beacon Journal has a nice article about Summit County (Ohio) Community Voice Mail, which launched last year and is doing really well. The article features Tara Strickland (pictured here), a CVM Summit client who successfully used her voice mail number to find a job, and now uses it to stay connected to people and resources that are helping her. One section from the article exemplifies the impact that a simple phone number can have:

''It has helped me out so much,'' Strickland said. ''It helps me with doctor's appointments, to keep up with my son in school in case the school needs to get in touch with me, to pass on information from the agency and for work.

''I've been called into work early several times.''

Strickland said voice mail also helped her find new housing.

''I needed a way for potential landlords to get ahold of me,'' she said. ''It helped me find an apartment. I just moved.''

For more about Community Voice Mail Summit, take a look at their web site, and a blog that is used to keep clients and social service agencies in Summit County informed about useful resources.

(Photo: Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Panhandler Speaks

Quick...without thinking, what image comes into your head when you think of "homeless people"? Is it the guy who was injured (without insurance), lost his job and then his home, and ended up on the streets? Or perhaps the Veteran who returned from Iraq with PTSD and couldn't easily rejoin society? Or maybe the mother of two who lost her rental house because the owner was foreclosed upon?

There are a lot of people who end up homeless for these reasons, but it's more likely that your first thought was about the homeless people you probably encounter every day: panhandlers. The people on the street or at the off-ramp, holding a sign and asking for money. There have been a lot of articles about panhandlers (here's one), usually focusing on the few(?) who actually make money doing it, or who otherwise lie about their need or what they plan to do with the money you give them. In the video below (from, you'll see another side of the story:

Tony from invisible people on Vimeo.

Are some panhandlers less "together" than the person in this video? Do some take your money and feed a drug or alcohol addiction? Absolutely. But for anyone who thinks that standing at the off-ramp with a sign begging for money is a desirable lifestyle, or that everyone at the off-ramp is simply using the money to buy drugs or alcohol, take a look at this video. Most people have the same basic desires: a place to live, a job, and something that brings meaning to their life. Sometimes, people do what they have to do to survive.