Charity Voice-Mail Program San Francisco Chronicle Page A18

Charity Voice-Mail Program Connects Homeless to The World

Julie N. Lynem, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, November 23, 1998

Four years ago, Karen Nolan left an abusive relationship and joined the ranks of the homeless.

But thanks to a simple telecommunications tool -- voice mail -- she and her children did not live on San Francisco streets for long. Because potential landlords and employers were able to call her, she found a job and, eventually, an apartment.

Thousands of homeless people in San Mateo County will soon have the same opportunity to keep in touch with the rest of the world through a free voice-mail program sponsored by the Baha'i Spiritual Assembly of San Carlos and coordinated through the Bay Area Homeless Alliance, a nine-county group representing public and nonprofit social service agencies and homeless service providers.

Other Baha'i sponsors are helping to install voice-mail boxes in Alameda, Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. The system already is available in San Francisco, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties. The council, Nolan said, started its voice-mail program in the Bay Area in May 1993.

Case managers will be in charge of assigning personalized voice-mail boxes to clients at agencies where homeless people are served, said Michael Akana, San Mateo County manager for the Bay Area Homeless Alliance. In San Mateo County, for example, the Baha'is will work closely with North Peninsula Neighborhood Services, one of the alliance's service providers.

Homeless clients will be able to record their own greeting and retrieve messages from any touch- tone phone, using a personal password. Baha'i volunteers will coordinate the voice-mail boxes and oversee the equipment, which was donated by APEX Voice Communications in Los Angeles.

Hundreds of voice-mail boxes are expected to be put into service next month. More will be added if necessary.

"(Telephone service) is something most people take for granted," Akana said. "But when you're without it, you realize how isolated you are."

More than 400 San Mateo County residents find themselves homeless every night, and about 75 make their beds on the street or sleep in cars, according to one- night counts of the homeless conducted twice this year by the San Mateo County Center on Homelessness.

When Nolan was homeless, she sought refuge in a women's shelter. She found hope in a small package -- in a telephone message system that helped her begin a new life.

"It's not the same as having your own home or your own phone," she said. "But it's better than having nothing at all."

©Copyright 1998, San Francisco Chronicle
Original Story

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