Voice Mail Assists
Homeless Job Hunters

SEATTLE (ANS) -- A homeless person in search of a job probably has the added handicap of being without a phone.

Addressing the problem, a nonprofit group called the Community Technology Institute provides a free voice mailbox to homeless job hunters and other people who are unable to afford their own phone. The users can collect their phone messages from a pay phone or at a social services office.

To date, more than 20,000 homeless and phoneless people nationwide are able to receive job-related and personal telephone messages thanks to the Institute's Community Voice Mail program.

Patricia Barry, executive director of the program, estimated that it typically takes a homeless or phoneless person about 12 months to "wander the maze of social services" and secure a job. Part of this time is spent walking to employers' offices to set up interviews because of the lack of a home phone. According to Barry, people with phones made available by the voice mail program typically achieve major objectives like a job or housing in 30 to 60 days.

"It makes sense. If you are looking for a job, then you need to be easily reached for callbacks and interviews," said Barry. "(The program) is a dignified way to stay in touch with the world."

Barry, a co-founder of the program, described the voice mail program as the nation's only operating model for universal access to telecommunications for low-income and homeless people.

The inspiration for the voice mail program came in 1991, when Barry noticed that a homeless man would occasionally come into the Seattle Worker Center where she worked to pick up and return telephone messages. "But, sometimes he would get callbacks and we couldn't find him," Barry recalled. She and a co-founder established the Community Technology Institute in 1993.

Barry made this man, a boiler operator by trade, her test case, offering him the first free voice mail. "Within 10 days, he had gotten two job interviews. Within two weeks, he had a job. And, within a month, he was in an apartment with a car. That's progress," Barry said.

Potential voice mail clients are often identified when they contact social services for other reasons, Barry said. Users pick up their messages from these same social service agencies, from other centers and from public pay phones. Each city's program is run separately according to local needs and resources, she said.

The program is funded through donations and grants. Barry said that the institute is also supported by the Seattle-based Active Voice Corporation, which has so far donated about $500,000 in software products. And it has received help from the Dialogic Corporation, in Parsipanny, N.J., which has donated many $1,500-apiece Voice Boards "that make digital voice mail happen," Barry said.

Barry said the institute is currently exploring the possibility of offering a free community e-mail/Internet service.

Posted: March 3, 1998
Copyright 1998 American News Service

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