Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Here's a great and funny piece featuring Studs Terkel, one of America's best voices. From everyone here at Community Voice Mail, and especially to the people who are using our service, we hope you have a happy Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Here at Community Voice Mail, we are trying to help end homelessness among veterans by giving out voice mail numbers to more than 4,000 veterans each year, and connecting them to information that can help them get jobs, find housing, stay healthy, and get the help they need to get on with their lives. Many of our managers regularly provide CVM numbers at Stand Down events like this around the country. And next year, we're going to do much, much more (more about this in another post).
At minute mark 10:20, the reporter says "Stand Down can't track a thousand homeless vets, so there's really no way to know how many might have picked up a lead on a job or a home..." But of course, there is a way. Give every veteran attending a Stand Down a Community Voice Mail number, tell them that they're going to start receiving regular broadcast voice messages about jobs, housing and all the services they learned about at the event. Tell them they can also receive this information via email, or on a blog, or using Facebook or Twitter. And finally, tell them that from time to time someone will contact them and ask them how they're doing, whether they've found a job, and if they've received the services they need. These are capabilities we have now that could be offered at Stand Down events all over the country. It's not that hard.
In this age of "social networking," we sometimes forget how important it is to stay connected to people. Hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless come to Stand Down and Homeless Connect events all over the country each year, and most of them leave these events without a simple way to stay connected to the resources offered there. Every agency offering services has a form where they will take phone numbers, mailing addresses and maybe email addresses, but there is no summing of the parts, no coordinated effort to make it easy to reach every attendee with follow-up information that can help them. They come as individuals, and they leave as individuals, with little effort to bring them into a community or network of people facing similar problems (or offering solutions to these problems, like the agencies or individuals that participate). Without the ability to stay connected to veterans attending a Stand Down event, the value of every service provided there is diminished.
Imagine a day when every homeless person becomes part of an information network specifically designed to increase opportunities for rising out of poverty, to match people with available services, and to increase a feeling of connectedness that people living on the streets often lack. That's what we're trying to build here at Community Voice Mail.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The Community Voice Mail 2009 Annual Report has just been released. Entitled "Communication Matters," it's a nice snapshot of what we (our sites, our agencies, our clients) accomplished last year. Take a look!
And if you like what you see and want to do more, you can
Monday, August 9, 2010
According to another article in the Wall Street Journal, 25 to 29-year olds make up 39% of unemployed Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, and the unemployment rate for this group is 14.9%. Many recent veterans from these wars are returning to the U.S. with traumatic brain injuries and other service-related injuries that make it difficult or impossible to work. These veterans are also returning to a country with a struggling economy and little or no job growth. With combat operations in Iraq ending this month, and the promised withdrawal of all ground troops by the end of next year, there will be a lot of veterans looking for work in the coming years.
Kudos to U.S. Senator Patty Murray (Washington State), sponsor of the Veterans Employment Act (S. 3234), which is designed to improve employment options and opportunities for veterans, and especially focused on transition programs so that returning veterans can move from the military directly into jobs. This bill has made it out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
We serve a lot of veterans here at Community Voice Mail; they make up 11% of our total client population. We're not yet seeing many of the younger veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan asking for our services, but I fear we may in the future. Most of our veteran clients are Vietnam-era or perhaps Desert Storm/Desert Sheild; 62% of our vets are 45-59, while only 28% are 26-44 and 2% are 18-25. 28% have told us they're disabled, and 8.5% are women. 86% our of veteran clients list an employment goal when they first get their CVM number. 55% identify as homeless or at-risk of homelessness.
Too many veterans need our services...
Photo credit: Stephen Voss for The Wall Street Journal
Monday, August 2, 2010
Scary time-lapse map showing unemployment rates in U.S. counties between January 2007 and May 2010. See how quickly the economy changed for a lot of people.
(YouTube version here, but it's not as good).
Friday, May 21, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The DC CVM program is now being co-hosted by 5 local DC agencies in partnership with the CVM National office. If you live in the DC area and are in need of free voice mail, you can contact the following agencies:
Bread for the City:
For SE DC referrals call Lynda Brown at (202) 561-0531.
For NW DC referrals call Julia Eddy at (202) 386-7018 to make a referral.
N Street Village: accepts only female clients.
Call Ann McCreedy at (202) 939-2070 to make a referral.
Please call Martina Wright at 202-364-1419 ext 14 to make a referral.
Ida Mae Campbell Wellness & Resource Center: The Center will set aside 10 phone numbers for individuals that are not members of the Center. Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 12PM-8PM and Saturday, 11AM-3PM
Please contact Gail Banks at 202-684-7015 to make a referral
La Casa (a program of DC Coalition for the Homeless): for clients already connected to programs within the DC Coalition for the Homeless.
Please call Lorraine Garcia at (202) 882-1237 x303 to make a referral.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
If you're a homeless veteran, a friend/family member of one, or working with a veteran who is experiencing homelessness, call 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838). This is a toll-free call, and a free and confidential service.
You can read more about the call center here, and learn more about VA programs for homeless veterans here . You can hear the broadcast voice message we sent to our clients in New York City (around the country) here. If you call the Call Center and are willing to share your experience, please do so in the comments. Thanks.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
And, a Pittsburgh CVM client talks about how she received her CVM number and how she's using it:
"Community Voice Mail is available to anybody going through a crisis or a major transition," said Katie Shogan, program manager for the free service.
Fully 90 percent of the people who have signed up say they are using Community Voice Mail as part of their job-seeking efforts, Ms. Shogan said. Other reasons for enrolling include apartment hunting, 82 percent; keeping in touch with health-care providers, 78 percent; and communicating with social services agencies, 61 percent.
Two-thirds of those who have signed up for the Pittsburgh-area program are male. More than 40 percent are between the ages of 26 and 44.
More than half, 56 percent, are homeless, and another 14 percent say they are at risk of losing their present accommodations. About 42 percent are unemployed, and 20 percent are disabled.
"Community Voice Mail offers them a means to be connected again," Ms. Shogan said. "If you are trying to find a job or a house or stay in touch with your doctor, it's important to have a voice mail box. If you can't be called back, you can miss out on some great opportunities."
A fairly typical client, using this simple tool as she strives to improve her situation. Not having a reliable phone number is an impediment to people who are motivated to change their lives.
Ms. McMillan signed up for Community Voice Mail at the recommendation of counselors at the Mon Valley Initiative, a nonprofit coalition of community and economic development groups.
A 1976 graduate of Duquesne High School, she has worked for a variety of social service agencies and businesses over the years. Seeking retraining, she recently completed a computer-skills class. She hopes to find a new job in any of several fields, including administrative assistant, data-entry clerk or environmental technician.
"Access to voice mail is one of the keys to finding gainful employment," she said. "I'm grateful to have it."
She also hopes that the free voice-mail service will help her in her hunt for a new apartment. She was burned out of her home earlier this month.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
From Lu’ma Native Housing Society, here's a brief overview of the project:
"The roll-out for this program started in February, 2010 when 25 service providers of housing, employment, healthcare and social services in and around the Downtown Eastside began receiving their banks of 20 DID (direct-inward-dial) local phone numbers. These numbers are then given to clients by the case workers who help them—fortifying these relationships and helping identify client goals."Full contact information for Vancouver Community Voice Mail is here. All the other CVM locations are here. Want to bring CVM to your community? Here's how.
"Enrollment is easy! The client and case worker sit down together and the client calls their new, local phone number. The client goes through enrollment, recording their own outgoing greeting and setting a new password. The client then walks out the door with a useful tool for self-direction. No longer will they have to rely on message boards and other people to manage their communication."
"Lu’ma Native Housing Society proudly brings this to the Vancouver “Community of Caring” for free. Cisco Systems, Vancouver Foundation, Coast Capital Savings and British Columbia Transmission Corporation are this year’s funders. If your organization helps people who are homeless and/or phoneless and you’d like to get onboard when the next 500 phone numbers are added, CVM project manager Jaime Foster would like to hear from you!"
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
Here at CVM, we did our own outreach to ensure that our clients and the agencies serving them had an opportunity to be counted. Several weeks ago, we sent out a voice message featuring the audio portion of a Census PSA by President Obama. Our managers prefaced this message with local information about the Census and how clients can be counted. Listen to one of the messages, sent by KariNoir, the manager of the Cleveland CVM program. A lot of our program managers around the country have sent out additional reminder messages.
It's really important for everyone, especially those experiencing homelessness, to be counted in the Census. Not only does this data determine the number of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives, but the data is also used in part to determine how much of the $400 billion in federal funding is allocated for things like job training centers, emergency services, hospitals, schools, public works projects (bridges, tunnels, etc.), as well as homeless assistance programs.
The Census attempted to include people who are homeless in their count. While it's not the catchiest name I've ever heard, they developed a special "Service-Based Enumeration (SBE)" operation specifically designed to count people who might be missed during the traditional count of housing units and group quarters. During the last three days in March, the Census worked with local partners to count people in three locations: emergency and transitional shelters with sleeping facilities; soup kitchens and regularly scheduled mobile food vans; and outdoor locations such as encampments underneath highway overpasses or bridges and other areas where members of the homeless population are known to live. We hope these efforts were successful, and that everyone experiencing homelessness had an opportunity to be counted.
As we've written before, Assurance Wireless is a prepaid mobile offering through the Federal Lifeline program. Assurance offers a free phone and 200 free minutes per month if you qualify for the program. The other Lifeline prepaid mobile offering (Safelink) only offers 68 free minutes per month, so Assurance is a much better deal. If you're using Safelink, you might want to consider switching to Assurance (see below for more on this).
You may be qualified to receive this benefit if you receive any of a number of federal or state public assistance benefits. Here's the list of benefits that qualify residents of Michigan for the Lifeline program:
- Food Stamps/SNAP
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA) or Section 8
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program, OR
- Your household income is at or below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines
If you're currently using Safelink Wireless or another Lifeline-provided phone, and you want to switch to Assurance Wireless to get more free monthly minutes, we suggest you:
1. Call Assurance Wireless to start the application process and specifically ask them what you need to do to switch from another provider. Write it down!
2. Call Safelink or your current Lifeline provider, and ask them what you need to do to switch to another provider. Write it down!
We've called several times to try to get specific information about switching from both carriers, and we've received different information each time. It may be that they've worked this out when you call, but it's also possible that you may not be able to keep your existing phone number and/or you may be without your phone service for a period of time while one provider cancels and the other starts up. If anyone reading this blog does the switch, please post and let us know what your experience has been. In the meantime, we'll keep trying to get accurate information.
Monday, March 15, 2010
A short video about the project is below. According to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, during one week, 200 people sent text messages and 30 follow-up with a donation via text message. If you're in New York, you can find out where the video projection will be from night to night on the Pathways Facebook page.
Go check it out. Give the virtual person a home, and then donate to make sure that a real homeless person gets a safe place to live.
If you'd like to experience
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
This happened again this week on one of the NTEN groups, and we posted the following response today to someone asking about Google's Project CARE and Community Voice Mail:
For the past few years, we've been concentrating on sending broadcast voice messages to our 40,000 clients around the country. We have local people on the ground in 45 U.S. cities (and one in Canada that's poised to launch!) who distribute phone numbers to social service agencies, who in turn give them to those clients who don't have a reliable way to be reached. These managers, being part of the local community, learn about resources that homeless and low-income people need (jobs, housing, health care, training, benefits, etc.), and record voice messages that are delivered to every client in their area. Nationally, we work with entities like the Centers for Disease Control and AIDS.gov to send messages to all our clients about H1N1 flu, food product recalls, HIV testing resources and other things. Last year, we sent about 2,200 of these message to our clients, creating what we feel is a direct, highly effective communication resource for this usually hard-to-reach population. Clients can also reply to these messages, and we use this feature to gather data, solicit feedback and comments, and learn more about what kind of information our clients want to hear. It's amazing to listen to messages from people all over the country who may be homeless or in crisis; every day, we're astounded by their strength and determination to make a better life for themselves. It's awe-inspiring stuff...
None of this connectivity and information richness would be possible without having local managers in each community, and the network of social service agencies that are providing the voice mail boxes to their clients. We know from years of doing this that if you don't sit down with someone and walk them through the enrollment process (literally, by handing them the phone and telling them when to record their greeting, enter their password, etc.), it's not likely that the voice mail box will ever be used. Our local managers support the agencies that give out boxes by providing them with training and other resources. They also provide them with monthly reports showing which of their clients have (or have not) used their boxes in the past month, and this becomes a tool they can use with their clients ("Hey, I left you two messages about job opportunities, and you haven't checked your voice mail in three weeks. What's going on?"). The agencies give us demographic data about each client so we know who we're serving, and they also track goals and outcomes, so we know if we're being effective. Without this network of 2,000 social service agencies around the country, and the information they give about the people using our service, we'd never have any idea how effective we're being. The system is not without its problems, but it works pretty well.
We're really glad that Google is providing some phone numbers to people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco and recently in D.C. People in this life situation need as many resources as they can, and a phone number is a great thing to have. We've kind of moved beyond this, however, and have created a system that we believe does more to meet the specific needs of the people and agencies we're trying to support. We wish we had the resources that Google has to do this on a huge scale (and we've talked with Google about this in the past), but for now, we'll keep improving and offering new things that have value.
Sorry for the long post! Google is such a huge entity that when they do anything, everyone in the world reports it, and I thought it would be worth while to talk in more depth about what we're doing.
Steve (Community Voice Mail)
During January, 95,010 calls resulted in messages left for our clients. We know what people are calling about, because we ask. Clients are getting calls about
- Jobs: 83% of our clients are using CVM because they're looking for work. They're getting messages from case managers telling them about job or training opportunities. They're hearing from employers to schedule interviews. They're getting called back to say they got the job.
- Housing: 68% of our clients are looking for a place to live. They're getting messages from local housing authorities to tell them they're at the top of the waitlist for public housing. They're getting calls from property owners to say they application for housing has been accepted.
- Healthcare: 53% of our clients are using CVM for health reasons. They're getting messages from their doctor reminding them of an appointment, or to get test results that will help them tweak their medication.
- Social services and Benefits: 55% of our clients are seeking other social services. They're getting messages from their case manager about drug and alcohol treatment programs. Social workers at the local VA Medical Center are contacting them about programs available for veterans.
Finally, our clients are also hearing from family, friends and loved ones, and these messages of hope and love are at least as important as hearing about a new job or a new place to live. For people who are homeless or living in poverty, CVM is a reliable connection to the people and resources who can help. We look forward to call number 15,000,000, and the millions more in the future.
Here are some CVM clients telling us about the best voice messages they've ever received:
Our profound thanks to the CVM clients in Houston who left us messages, and to the Seattle CVM clients who agreed to be photographed. Thanks also to volunteer photographer Rajiv Kapoor, who along with Daniel from the CVM National Office spent a lot of time with our clients to capture these images.
Monday, January 25, 2010
A lot of people have posted about their experiences with Safelink, but here's a formal, open question for everyone who has a Safelink phone or has tried to get a phone from them: how do you like Safelink? Is it working for you? Was it easy to get? Have you had any problems with the phone or service? Do you find that you're routinely buying more minutes from Tracfone (Safelink's parent) when you run out of the free minutes?
Not a scientific sampling, but it would help to know what your experiences are as we think about recommendations to Community Voice Mail clients about these services. Please post your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!
Sales of Safelink phones through September 2009:
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Today on KUOW (Seattle NPR station), Kathy tells this story, discusses her ongoing efforts to locate friends and family in Haiti, and talks about the work her nonprofit (Haitian Sustainable Development Foundation) and others are doing in the country. Give it a listen, and then give, give and give.