Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Resource for Homeless Veterans

The VA has created a new resource for veterans in the U.S. who may be experiencing homelessness. The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans is a 24-hour toll-free number for homeless or at-risk veterans who may benefit from local VA homeless programs and mental health services. Trained VA counselors will answer the phone, conduct a brief screen to assess your needs, and connect you with the Homeless Point of Contact at the nearest VA facility. If you're calling on behalf of a homeless veteran, you'll be given information about VA programs in your area.

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

Pittsburgh CVM in the News

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a nice article today about the Pittsburgh Community Voice Mail program, which is hosted in that city by Travelers Aid. In the article, Katie Shogan (CVM Manager in Pittsburgh) talks about the program:

"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."

And, a Pittsburgh CVM client talks about how she received her CVM number and how she's using it:

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.

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.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vancouver (BC) Community Voice Mail Launches

We're very pleased to announce that Community Voice Mail is in Canada! We are proud to welcome Lu’ma Native Housing Society, our newest host agency in Vancouver, British Columbia. In just 60 days, Vancouver, BC CVM Manager Jamie Foster has recruited 25 providers of housing, employment, health care and social services in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood. They're in the process now of distributing numbers to their clients who need them, and clients are already checking their messages (we love it when the first calls start coming in for a new site). Listen to Jamie talk about why CVM Vancouver is such a source of community pride, and how it will help people who are homeless and the agencies that serve them.

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."

"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!"
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.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wonderful Video (that has nothing to do with homelessness)

I've tried to think of something about homelessness or "phonelessness" or the work of Community Voice Mail that I can directly relate to this really creative video by the band OK Go, but I can't right now (can you?). It was added to YouTube in March, and has now been viewed 11 million times, so it may be ancient history to many of you, but I hope you enjoy it. I did.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Census 2010: Being Counted

The initial part of the 2010 Census is over, and most people have already received and returned their census forms. But what if you don't have a home, or a reliable place to receive mail? What if you're homeless and want to be counted?

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.

Assurance Wireless: Now Available in Michigan

Good news for low-income people in Michigan who don't have access to a phone or are currently using a Safelink Wireless phone; Assurance Wireless is now available in your state.

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:
  • Medicaid
  • 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
(See this for more information about eligibility in Michigan or the other four states in which Assurance is offered - New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee).

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.

Good luck!