Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Keep the Messages Flowing in D.C.

Street Sense is a street newspaper in Washington, D.C. that raises public awareness about homelessness and poverty in the city, and creates economic opportunities for people experiencing homelessness. Last week, they published a nice article about the D.C. Community Voice Mail (CVM) program, describing how one client used the service (and his personal will) to land a job and gain some financial independence. We love articles like this, because it shows what we know to be true; homeless people and/or those who can't afford a phone number lose out on opportunities to live a better life, and CVM is a simple, low-cost solution to this problem.

But, CVM doesn't happen by magic, and it doesn't happen without support. And this article points out the hard truth; our D.C. program is in danger of closing due to funding cuts for social services in D.C.. For want of $40,000 and an agency to host the program, hundreds of homeless and low-income people in D.C. may no longer have a phone number to put on job applications.

So, times are tough all over, and every agency providing services to people living in poverty (including the surging numbers of newly homeless) is looking for ways to maintain services in the face of reduced funding. We're not whining. We just want to find the right group of people who want to keep CVM available to the thousands of homeless and "phoneless" people in D.C.. We're not talking about millions of dollars and big infrastructure; we're only talking about $40,000 a year to pay for a part-time person in D.C. who will distribute phone numbers to the 35 existing agencies (and find new ones), send broadcast voice and email messages about about jobs and other resources to clients using the system, and innovate locally by finding new uses for CVM. It's a plug-and-play program that scales, with great support from a National Office here in Seattle and 44 other programs around the country. Clients need it. Agencies benefit from their clients having a reliable phone number (so they can reach them. Duh.). Communities benefit from homeless or at-risk people getting back on their feet and contributing again.

Can you think of another program to help homeless people that achieves so much for such a small investment? $40,000? In a city the size of D.C.?

If you'd like to talk about ways to keep CVM in D.C., and make it an even stronger resource for the homeless and the people serving them, contact us.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tulsa CVM Video (using Flip Video camera)

Tulsa Community Voice Mail just published a nice video on their blog, featuring clients from that city talking about how having a CVM voice mail number has helped them. I can talk all day about how this simple service makes a difference to people who can't afford a reliable phone number, but a few words from our clients trumps everything. Nothing like hearing it from the people it's actually benefiting. (Direct link to the video on YouTube here.)

Lori, the Tulsa CVM Manager, recorded the clients comments using a Flip Video camera that we purchased at a discount via Flip Video Spotlight, the company's charitable giving program. If the nonprofit you care about hasn't pursued video yet, getting a camera via this program is a great way to start. When we applied, we were given an option to get two 60-minute cameras for the price of one, and now it appears they're offing a 120-minute version. The cameras are simple to operate (you can only record/play, and zoom in/out; no other buttons), the lens is great, and it comes with a built-in USB connector so you can plug it right into your computer. The software, which resides on the camera, enables minor editing and direct posting to YouTube, etc. Great stuff, particularly for interviews and other close-in recording.

And if you think Lori is some sort of video expert with fancy equipment, think again. These interviews were created by placing the camera on a filing cabinet and pointing it at the clients, who were sitting in her office. Lori did the editing herself, and I believe this was her first experience with video. I think the fact that the camera is very small (like an iPod) and not intimidating brings out better interviews. Get one!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Top 10 List: Addressing Homelessness

Joel John Roberts, the CEO of PATH Partners in Los Angeles just published his top ten list of how the approach to addressing homelessness has changed in the five years that he's been blogging. It's a good list (not in any priority):
  • Permanent Supportive Housing (some also call this “Housing First”) has become the paramount solution to homelessness. But communities today are struggling with how to fund on an annual basis the support services needed for this housing.
  • Chronic homelessness has become a priority target population. But in the past couple of years, episodic homelessness (the newly homeless) has dramatically increased, resulting in local communities changing priorities.
  • More and more families have become homeless during a time when families were not considered part of the standard definition of chronic homelessness.
  • Hundreds and hundreds of cities across the country adopted “Ten Year Plans To End Homelessness.” But after five years of adoption—the halfway point for many cities—no one is confidently predicting that chronic homelessness will end by 2014.
  • Tent cities are becoming the new “shelters” of today. Very few local neighborhoods are allowing traditional homeless shelters to be built. So impromptu homeless “tent cities” are being set up instead.
  • Due to the declining economy, less and less resources are available to sustain an existing homeless care system and to invest in permanent affordable housing.
  • Homeless prevention trumps traditional homeless services. Pro-active prevention activities are being funded rather than reactive homeless services.
  • Social media is actually becoming as effective as traditional media. Facebook, blogs, and Twitter are certainly all the buzz. Who wants to buy stock in local newspapers? Social media is being used to educate and mobilize the community.
  • Government, alone, cannot resolve homelessness. It will take both a public and private partnership to end homelessness. That is why local governments are partnering with the business community, faith groups, and private service agencies.
  • Finally, I personally feel that community engagement is becoming an important piece to the solution of homelessness. In order to increase resources and overcome NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard), communities are going to have to unite together to overcome homelessness.
I might humbly add that homeless people with a Community Voice Mail number now have access to a constant flow of information (via broadcast voice messaging) sent to them from a local person who is in touch with a wide variety of community resources and events. And social service agencies trying to help end homelessness have a simple, effective tool to reach their "phoneless" clients when they need to tell them about a job or housing opportunity.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Community Voice Mail in the News

KOMO News in Seattle just broadcast a great piece (see below) about the Washington Telephone Assistance Program, which uses federal Universal Service Fund dollars to provide discounted phone service to people receiving various forms of public assistance. Bill, who is featured in the program, is also a really nice guy and a big advocate of Community Voice Mail. Jenn Brandon, the executive director of the Community Voice Mail National Office, is also interviewed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New CVM Blog: Cleveland

Cleveland Community Voice Mail, which is hosted by 211/First Call For Help, has just launched a blog. This is the 11th blog created by local CVM programs, and a sign that we're trying to reach our clients and their agencies using all appropriate means. Nearly 60% of our clients tell us they have email addresses, and virtually all of our 2,000 agencies using most of the communication technologies you can name. We have a lot of opportunity for reaching more people in multiple ways.