Community Voice Mail: A Free Lifeline

“Community Voice Mail is not just a telephone number, it is a person’s lifeline. It provides a reliable and free phone number to help a person connect with jobs, housing, and health care. It keeps people connected,” explains Amanda Clearwater. Community Voice Mail is a national organization that is helping people who are homeless and in transition connect with housing and employment, and to achieve stability.

Every day, people receive life-changing information over the telephone. What would you do without a way for people to reach you? Thanks to Community Voice Mail, people who are in transition have access to a free lifeline: a local phone number with a voicemail box. It helps people who are phoneless to apply for jobs, manage health care, stay in touch, and connect with services.

Amanda Clearwater is the Community Voice Mail Manager for the state of New Mexico, one of forty-five sites around the country that offers free and secure phone numbers through partnerships with local social service agencies. Community Voice Mail serves 40,000 people nationwide every year, with simple and powerful tools to change people’s lives. Community Voice Mail has been in operation since 1991 and has helped over 350,000 people regain stability.  

“Community Voice Mail is not just a telephone number, it is a person’s lifeline. It provides a reliable and free phone number to help a person connect with jobs, housing, and health care. It helps someone keep in touch with family and receive current, timely information about community events or public health alerts. It keeps people connected,” explains Amanda.

Community Voice Mail is also a network for sharing critical information. Every week Amanda sends broadcast voicemail messages to 570 participants across New Mexico. The content of the messages is both practical and inspirational. In a clear and comforting voice, she records messages about job opportunities, community events, inspirational thoughts, or even a song.  One hot summer week, she recorded a quotation from Gandhi about managing one’s emotions in the heat.

When people sign up for Community Voice Mail, they are asked to identify goals. When asked for feedback after using the service, many report life-changing achievements. Of those who responded, over eighty-three percent who were seeking employment found a job.  Ninety percent of participants who were trying to find housing achieved this goal.  One Albuquerque woman who was unemployed and staying at a women’s shelter shared her story of success with Community Voicemail:

“Hi Amanda. I am very pleased with the system. And I want to thank you so very much because I have a job at a hostel. It came from a blanket broadcast that you sent out for a job that came with housing and I was lucky enough to get it. I am just so ecstatic. I am staying at the Barrett House, which is where I got the voice mail service and I thank you so much. Through getting your service I got a job so I am very happy.”

The Metropolitan Homelessness Project in Albuquerque is the main host site for Community Voice Mail. There are approximately twenty-five agencies in New Mexico – and 2,000 agencies nationwide – signed up to give out free voice mail numbers to people in need. Amanda’s goal for the next year is to more than double the partner agencies statewide and triple the number of clients served. Through a grant from the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico Community Voice Mail was initially funded for 500 phone numbers to distribute free of charge. Since February they have distributed 570 numbers between Albuquerque and Santa Fe and plan to expand to the Navajo Nation and throughout the rest of the state.

“I think we underestimate the number of people who are still struggling with phonelessness. We forget that there are a lot people out there who don’t have this luxury,” says Amanda. In addition to people experiencing homelessness, there are many counties within New Mexico where over fifteen percent of homes do not have a phone.

Community Voice Mail is simple to use. In about ten minutes, a case manager at a partner agency can enroll a client. Amanda has personally signed up 140 men experiencing homelessness at the Albuquerque Opportunity Center.

While twenty-five percent of the individuals receiving voice mail numbers also have cell phones, Amanda encourages people to use their Community Voice Mail number as a main number. People in transition often have difficulty maintaining consistent cell phone service due to lack of funds, loss, or theft.

Community Voice Mail has learned that not having a phone is not a barrier to checking voice mail messages. “People still have to get to a phone somewhere to call and check their messages. But we have seen that people find ways to overcome this. Usually they are able to use a phone through agencies or case managers,” says Amanda.

Community Voice Mail is a basic technology that has proven to be life changing. Partner social service agencies have the option to set up hotlines for clients. “We can use any voice mail number to set up a hotline for agencies. They can record any kind of crucial information they need to get out to their clients.”

In addition to providing clients with reliable phone numbers, Community Voice Mail has partnered with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and to send targeted healthcare messages about H1N1 flu virus, food recalls, and HIV testing resources. It is a reliable way to distribute critical information to otherwise hard to reach populations. Community Voice Mail is continually seeking new partners throughout the country.

Watch video responses from Community Voice Mail clients.

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA