Charity Voice-Mail Program
San Francisco Chronicle Page A18
Charity Voice-Mail Program Connects Homeless to The
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
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
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
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