Session is officially over: The dust has settled!

After 176 days and edging into a 3rd special session, Washington state’s 2015 legislative session ended in the second week of July. The final budget includes $185 million in new revenue from closing several tax loopholes and increasing some fees. It takes key steps to strengthen our state safety net; invest in early learning, K-12 and college education; provide emergency mental health services; and more.

Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Working closely with our communities, we are happy to report that our advocacy led to important wins for equity in Washington state. Here is how our main campaigns fared:

Basic Needs
After years of cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), we saw a 9% increase in the cash grant! This increase also benefits immigrant families who rely on State Family Assistance to meet their basic needs. State Food Assistance was funded fully at 100% (instead of 75%) of the federal SNAP benefit, assisting immigrant families living on low incomes in buying enough food for their families. And Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) now has a 12-month eligibility assessment, which means that a parent won’t lose help with childcare if their income increases slightly due to extra hours or overtime from one month to another.

Unfortunately state funding for Washington Telephone Assistance Program (WTAP), including Community Voice Mail (CVM), was eliminated. CVM provides a stable, secure way for people facing homelessness or who are in crisis to stay connected to critical resources – such as housing and employment opportunities – and accomplish their goals.

Roadblocks to Re-Entry (for previously incarcerated people)
All three of our main campaign priorities – Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs), Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP), and Ban the Box – gained positive momentum this year though none were passed into law. The LFO bill was voted out of the House almost unanimously and was moving through the Senate before an amended version died on the floor. We are excited to build on this momentum next session!

Consumer Protections
Due to a groundswell of opposition from all across the state, including a lot of media attention, we prevented “small installment loans” (the new payday loan) from being passed. We also prevented passage of several other laws that would weaken our debt protections. We’ll most likely have to keep fighting this fight in the years to come, but it’s worth it. The strong consumer protections you passed in 2009 have saved Washington consumers nearly half a billion dollars in fines and fees.

Your emails, phone calls, stories, and letters supporting revenue and investments in equity in our state made a real difference! Thank you for all the ways you made your voice heard this legislative session to generate revenue and invest in all families in our state. Visit the Statewide Poverty Action Network website for more information.

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Phone & internet discount info moving to InterConnection

Community Voice Mail was awarded a Harvard Innovations in Government Award in 1993 that lead to expansion to 40+ other U.S. cities.

Community Voice Mail was awarded a Harvard Innovations in Government Award in 1993 that led to expansion to 40+ other U.S. cities.

Starting on June 15, Solid Ground’s ConnectUp will no longer provide information and referral to the general public about phone and internet discount programs. The Community Information Line at 2-1-1 will provide referrals to phone and/or internet services. Our website content on phone and internet discounts will transition over to InterConnection at the end of June. We will post the link to that content as soon as it is available.

Solid Ground will continue to provide free Community Voice Mail as it has since 1991, when a group of folks at our forebear, the Fremont Public Association, invented the then high-tech idea of linking people experiencing homelessness to community through voice mail. Since that time, tens of thousands of people have used community voice mail to find housing, jobs and vital connections.

To sign up for free voice mail, call 206.694.6744, Tuesday – Friday, 10am-4pm.

ConnectUp’s Resource Wire newsletter will also continue to provide information on job opportunities, social services and free events via email, voice mail and social media to people living on low incomes in Seattle/King County.

Sign up for Resource Wire today!

ConnectUp: Using communication technologies to link people with essential services

ConnectUp 2013Solid Ground’s ConnectUp program is a communication hub that provides a wealth of access to information for people living on low incomes in King County. Formerly known as Community Voice Mail, the program changed its name in 2012 to better represent its broadening services and the ever-changing landscape of telecommunications.

Originally developed to provide access to personal voice mail for those without phones seeking employment, ConnectUp has expanded to include broadcast messaging, education and outreach, and referrals to discount telecommunication providers.

For people experiencing homelessness or living on low incomes, access to information and the ability to contact resources are vital. As face-to-face interactions and paper submissions are being replaced with technology, it is almost impossible to seek assistance without this access.

ConnectUp Program Supervisor, Lambert Rochfort, described telecommunications as a bridge between people and services. “It’s very difficult to get a job, housing or access services without a phone and the internet. And it’s only going to get worse as more and more companies will only let you apply for jobs online. If you can’t apply online, you have to call them. Even if someone needs services like housing or health care, they still need a phone to call 2-1-1.”

Spreading the word

The program takes advantage of all the ways telecommunications can disseminate information. The Resource Wire – ConnectUp’s blog and broadcast messaging system – spreads the word about job fairs, employment opportunities, workshops and classes, job training, community resources and social services. Through email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging and voice mail, ConnectUp can broadcast a wide range of information.

It was through resource broadcasting that many people found out about discount phone programs. “Over time people were more interested in getting free cell phones through us than they were in getting voice mail,” Lambert explained. “And we, by default, became the place to go and the people to ask about these cell phone programs. Nobody was really helping people access them. We shifted from being a provider of voice mail to a provider of information.”

A hub for information

ConnectUp became the coordinated entry point through 2-1-1 for people needing free or discounted cell phones, internet, voice mail, home phonessmart phones and computers. Staff explain the programs available, help them figure out which programs they are eligible for, and assist them with the application process.

“I’m not aware of any other agency in the country that’s doing quite what we’re doing in helping people access the phone and internet discount programs,” Lambert expressed. “Seems like in most places, people are left on their own. 2-1-1 can refer them, but the operators are not up to date on the programs and who is eligible. We’re doing something unique as far as the information and referral, but also the education and outreach.”

Hooking people up to independence

In the coming year, ConnectUp will seek to integrate telecommunications into Solid Ground’s Housing services. Their vision is that, as clients are set up in housing, they will be referred to ConnectUp to apply for low-cost phone and internet services, and will sign up for the Resource Wire. Clients will use the connectivity to turn on utilities, seek and maintain employment, receive information on community resources and events, integrate financial empowerment through financial literacy messages, and stay in touch with social services.

By giving clients the freedom to seek out resources themselves, access to communication technology reduces isolation and affords the ability to take some control over their circumstances. Connectivity through technology supports independence and confidence and fosters self-supporting behavior that leads to quicker stabilization.

Access to communication technology is imperative because it is a link to loved ones, support, opportunity, education, employment and a higher quality life. According to Lambert, “Telecommunications should be considered a basic human right that everyone can have access to, regardless of how much money they have. ConnectUp is trying to make that possible by removing the barriers that exist for people living on low incomes to accessing communications technology.”

Technology connects people living on low incomes with support networks

Guy on Cellphone by Brick WallIn our recent post “When homelessness hits home,” we reprinted Solid Ground Board President Lauren McGowan’s touching reflections on her mother’s passing, and the important role her cellphone had in keeping her in touch with loved ones during the years she experienced homelessness. As Lauren writes, “She felt safe outside as long as she could end the night with a text or a call to say, ‘Love you, love you more.’ … I always made sure she had a phone so we could maintain connection.”

ConnectUp logoSolid Ground’s ConnectUp (formerly Community Voice Mail) exists to keep people who are struggling to get by on low incomes and/or experiencing homelessness connected to support networks, jobs and housing opportunities via telecommunications access in King County, WA. Specifically, ConnectUp helps people access phone, voice mail, internet and other connections to the services they need. The program also does education and outreach on telecommunications assistance programs for service providers and people living on low incomes, and they broadcast information about community resources.

The following story, “A Homeless Man and His BlackBerry: It’s not loitering if you’re on your phone” by Kat Ascharya is reposted with permission by Mobiledia (originally published 6/12/13). It highlights just how important staying connected can be to the dignity, livelihood and emotional well-being of people experiencing homelessness.

You could tell he was different the moment he walked in the coffee shop. It wasn’t his appearance. He looked presentable, if a little rough around the edges, clutching an old BlackBerry to his barrel chest. It was how he moved: warily, shoulders hunched over and eyes darting. The body language would read as suspicious, if not for the flicker of fear and apprehension in his eyes – as if he was scared of being noticed, vigilant to his surroundings and desperately trying to blend in at the same time.

He ordered a coffee, carefully counting out coins on the counter. He sat down at the table near me and pulled out his phone, just like nearly everyone else at the shop. He punched in a few numbers and began talking in a low voice, discreet but urgent. I was only a few seats away, but I couldn’t help but overhear his conversations.

Did someone have some cash jobs for him? Could he crash at a friend of a friend’s place? Could he get a ride out to the soup kitchen? After a few calls, it became clear: he was homeless. A homeless man with a smartphone.

Bert isn’t unsheltered. He bounces between emergency shelters and friends’ couches while he seeks temporary, cash-based day-laborer work. He refuses, in fact, to call himself homeless. “This is just a temporary condition,” he tells me more than once, after we struck up a conversation. Over and over again, he said he would get himself out of “this tight spot,” though he was vague about how long he’d been in it and how he got there. He made it clear: he hadn’t given up.

It wasn’t easy to engage him in conversation. When I first asked how he liked his BlackBerry, he looked at me like I was crazy. Later, he chalked up his guarded nature to the fact that he often doesn’t have casual conversations anymore. Most people, he said, tend to avoid him once they realize he is poor and transient. “You can’t hide it, being poor,” he said.

He made a joke about people acting as if poverty was an infectious disease. They give him a wide berth and pretend he’s not there. “I can go whole days without people not even looking at me,” he said. “And when they do, it often means they’re sizing you up, wondering if they need to kick you out or something.” The result, he said, is a sense of exile, from any feeling of belonging you have to the human race.

His phone, then, functions as an important conduit. On the surface, it’s his most important, practical tool. He can call places for work with it. He can call up shelters and other social services to see what’s available. He calls public transportation to find out which bus lines are running and check out schedules.

E-mail and text is especially important. He can reach out to friends to see if he can crash with them for a night or two, especially if the weather is rough. But he has to be careful. “You don’t want to impose,” he said. “You can’t exhaust your friends. Otherwise they’ll get tired of helping you, thinking, ‘Why are you still struggling?'” The hidden worry is that you’ll never leave.

Ironically, all this is easier to manage over text and e-mail than the phone. “You don’t have to worry about sounding upbeat and confident all the time,” he said. No one wants to help out the hopeless, and sometimes it’s not really so easy to disguise the worry and anxiety from your voice.

Slippery Slopes
Despite nearly everyone owning a cell phone, we think of them as luxuries, especially as data plans approach $100 a month. The idea of a homeless man with an iPhone, but no job or roof over his head, is discomfiting, mostly because poverty is perhaps one of the last bastions of unexamined prejudice in the U.S. Few would argue that people of different races or genders shouldn’t own phones, but it’s still common to temper sympathy for the homeless or destitute if they have a phone.

Even the most progressive areas of the country can show a certain callousness to what poverty should look and feel like. In San Francisco, for example, city supervisor Malia Cohen sparked controversy when she posted a picture of a homeless man on Facebook, talking on a phone while huddled underneath a freeway overpass. “This kind of made me laugh,” she commented, which led to an uproar and eventual removal of the picture. Ironically, California last month decided to expand their Lifeline program to give free phones and service to the homeless, recognizing the value of the devices for the disadvantaged.

The reality is homelessness is a simple term for a complex sociological condition, affected by a mosaic of factors that interact and affect one another in often unexpected ways. Large-scale trends like unemployment combust with local factors, such as lack of affordable housing or services easily accessible and open to those in need. Add in volatile personal situations – like addiction, family violence, financial instability or simply being far from family – you have a slippery slope to stand upon.

The homeless themselves range from the “unsheltered” living on the streets to doubled-up families living in single-occupancy homes. That includes those in transitory housing or emergency shelters, as well as the famous 2004 case of a student at NYU who attended school while sleeping at the library and showering at the gym.

About 20 out of every 10,000 people are homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Anyone without enough personal or social capital can get caught in the cycle, and it’s not easy to pull out, when you consider the tremendous shame and judgment they experience within themselves and from the world at large. But there’s one effective tool that can help. Yes, phones.

Keeping Up Appearances
On another level, Bert said his phone connects him to less tangible, but still important, resources. He knows people can reach him, no matter where he sleeps at night. He gets daily e-mails from an online ministry, with inspirational messages and passages from the Bible. Those keep up his spirit and faith and keep him going. He can read news on the browser, too. Ironically, his biggest criticism of BlackBerry is the browser: it’s slow and outdated and most websites won’t load on it anymore. He only gets a certain amount of time on the computer at the public library, so he often begins researching jobs and housing on his phone and makes a list of websites he wants to visit when he gets on a computer with a faster connection.

The phone also, in part, structures his day in an often chaotic life. He has an exhaustive list of places to charge his phone, and he makes sure to hit them at some point during the day. He’s careful about his power and data usage and carries his charger at all times, in one of the capacious pockets of his army jacket. “When I see a free outlet somewhere, I have to say, it feels like Christmas,” he said. Free Wi-Fi inspires the same feeling; he can save up his valuable data usage.

But the most valuable aspect about his phone, is simply that it makes him look like everyone else. “You won’t believe it,” he tells me, “but if I didn’t have my phone, I probably couldn’t just sit here and have my coffee and be talking to you. It gives me something I can do in public. It’s not loitering if I’m typing or talking on my phone.” Loitering, he said, is often a good excuse to kick the homeless out of a place. And a phone is a passport that lets him stay in places longer than he would otherwise.

“You have to realize about my situation, most people don’t look beyond appearances,” he said. And if there’s one thing that matters when you’re homeless, according to Bert, it’s appearances. The minute the facade cracks and reveals his struggle, no one wants to be around you. No one wants to see it. People kick you out of places; they can tell you don’t belong anywhere.

In talking with Bert about not just phones, but his life in general, I realized he’s someone with a clear-eyed inventory of his scant resources. And he maximizes them with an eye to maintain appearances. Within that ruthless calculus, a phone was more important than his car, which he sold after the winter and didn’t need to sleep in as a last resort. And besides, he said, cops are on the lookout for people sleeping in cars – it’s not as practical as you think.

He used the car money to save for his phone bill, as well as a cheap $30-a-month membership to a local 24-hour gym in a central part of town, which gives him regular access to a hot shower and a place he can go late at night if he needs. He knows that sounds ludicrous, but says nothing marks a homeless man more than pungent body odor and an unclean appearance.

You could have all the iPhones in the world with you, he said, but if you don’t have a regular way to stay clean, that’s the most dangerous thing of all in a precarious situation. Nothing gets a homeless person kicked out faster, rejected from a job instantly or denied housing than looking dirty. He kept repeating, “Dirty ain’t dignified.” It’s often that dignity that Bert fights so hard to maintain, even at the expense of other things – but definitely not at the cost of a cell phone.

Through the Cracks
Bert’s ability to stay afloat and even keep up his personal dignity sheds light not only on how central phones are to our lives – no matter how poor you are – but also the world’s poverty of generosity and compassion. For every great example of helping others – such as the Reddit user who found a Chicago homeless man and delivered a care package to him – there are countless others who slip through the cracks, who walk in through doors of public places, face stares of cold evaluation and wonder if they’ll be kicked out.

Bert lives assuming that people’s generosity and compassion are limited to a certain point – and once you push past that point, you’re lost beyond all help. Despite his situation, he’s a proud man, but burdened with the “double consciousness” that marginalized people often have – able to see himself both through his eyes, and through the eyes of how others would judge him. And it was clear that the discrepancy between the two distressed him, and much of his survival strategy tried to bridge that gap.

I saw Bert only a few times after our first conversation, though we never did talk as in-depth. Sometimes he let me buy him a coffee refill, though he wanted to buy the first cup himself. But after a few months, I didn’t see Bert anymore, and I’m not really sure what happened to him.

Did he finally pull himself out of his “temporary condition,” as he called it? Or was he like countless others who slipped through the cracks into the shadowy netherworld of genuine destitution and poverty, becoming one of the “unsheltered”? I just don’t know. He may still have his own phone number, but he remains out of reach, lost somewhere in a world where social ties are tenuous connections, no matter how many devices we have.

November 2012 Groundviews: “Thank you for all of your help along this journey”

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our November 2012 lead story; visit our website to read the entire issue online.

November 2012 Groundviews cover image

November 2012 Groundviews cover

The impact of Solid Ground’s work is no more powerfully expressed than through the words of gratitude from the people who access our services. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we have collected here a tiny sampling of thank you notes passed on to program staff by people who have come to Solid Ground for a wide variety of reasons, and who were moved to let us know how their lives have positively changed through their experiences here.

To Family Shelter staff:
     “I would like to start off by thanking you for always treating me with the utmost respect, for always returning my phone calls, for the advocacy you provided for me when my voice wasn’t that strong, for going above and beyond, for researching other resources and options when I felt like I had nothing left. I could only imagine if there were more individuals such as yourself how much greater it would be. You’ve helped me, so that I can be able to help my son in life. Thank you.”
~ Family Shelter mom

To Apple Corps ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’ nutritionists:
     “My favorite food we cooked was the Frittata because it was very tasty and has a lot of veggies. I learned a lot about different foods in the world like tofu and sushi. At first I was nervous to taste it but when I did it was good. Don’t be afraid to try anything from another culture! Thanks ‘Eat Better, Feel Better’!”
~ Seattle Public Schools 5th grader

To Washington Reading Corps (WRC) staff:
     “I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart. My year with WRC Solid Ground prepared me beautifully for what I would encounter later in my MIT program at Evergreen. We have been having beautiful discussions related to race and privilege and our role as teachers to be inclusive. I feel I would have not been prepared if I did not go through all the trainings and workshops you and the team leaders arranged for us. This is why I just wanted to thank you and Solid Ground for doing such a great job making people reflect on assumptions and biases related to race.”
 ~ Graduate student & former Washington Reading Corps Member

To JourneyHome staff:
     “I am grateful to you for comforting me and my family during the unexpected domestic violence incident and the overall follow up. It was one of my luckiest days that I came to know and work with you. Running away from the threatening and hostile Ethiopian political scenario, [our] family has experienced several ups and downs. But, human beings could be tested in various scales, and it would be rewarding and educational to pass through challenges and be able to stand on both legs safely. I remember a note below a picture of a very big woody-stemmed plant with branches saying that, ‘Like a tree, we each must find a place to grow and branch out.’ Yes, in our case, it reads as we need freedom to use our maximum potential to educate our offsprings. All is to say ‘Thank you’ for your exceptional multitude of help.”
~ JourneyHome family from Ethiopia

Thank you art for Lettuce Link staff by kids at Concord Elementary School

Thank you art for Lettuce Link staff by kids at Concord Elementary School

To Lettuce Link staff:
     “Thank you for helping me with my vegetables. Also giving me my own garden. Also help my mom save a few dollars. P.S. Thank you”
 ~ Concord Elementary School 3rd grader

To RSVP Knit-It-Alls volunteers:
     “Two years ago I was homeless and living in a garage during the winter season, and gifts of socks and hats kept me warm and able to go on. It was not only the material goods but the thought behind the gift which was important. I was given a gift of an especially warm blanket to keep me warm and it not only warmed me but warmed my soul.”
 ~ DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) shelter resident

To Housing Stabilization Services (HSS) staff:
     “Thank you for all of your help along this journey. If it wasn’t for you and the help that Solid Ground has given me, I wouldn’t be where I am at today. Hell, I may have still been on the streets somewhere and that isn’t a good place to be. But you were able to give me the tools to move forward. Now I also know that it was a hard road getting here, and I had to put in a lot of the work myself. But the support that you gave me along the way is what really got me moving forward.

     “When you look over the sound, there seems to be no way to the other side without taking some kind of boat. Well Solid Ground was able to give me the tools, and a lot of little stepping stones, to slowly move across the bay to get to where I will need to be in life. Thanks to all of you there, even the ones that don’t know me. For it is the ones in the background that really do the work to keep things moving so that you can do the job that is set before you every day.”
 ~ Housing Stabilization Services participant

To Community Voice Mail (CVM) staff:
     “Community Voice Mail has literally been a life saver. I’m presently an outpatient cancer person. And the phone to contact with my pharmacy and with my doctor, as well as my primary doctor that referred me, was absolutely necessary. Without your phone assistance, I couldn’t have done it I don’t think. And also, a safe place to live – I found this place. So anyway, thanks a lot. I sure appreciate it.”
 ~ Community Voice Mail participant

To Broadview Shelter staff:
     “I still believe that there is power in gentleness, that there is more to us than flesh and bone, that life will bring more happiness if lived for peace and not possessions. I still believe people of gentleness and faith can change the world – one unseen, unsung, unrewarded kindness at a time – and nothing in this world can make me stop. Thank you for proving me right.”
 ~ Broadview Shelter mom

Financial Fitness staff:
     “Thank you for getting the pay day loans off my back! I really am feeling blessed for finally reaching out for help. Thanks to your phone calls, the pressure is off and I have a manageable payment schedule.”
 ~ Financial Fitness Boot Camp participant

Housing Stability Program staff:
     “Solid Ground, thank you so very much for helping me and my two autistic twin sons remain in our home. Were it not for your generosity we would be in a very dire situation. I am so thankful to everyone at Solid Ground who works so diligently to keep this project going. It was such a HUGE relief when I received that grant. I had not slept in days from worry which was making me ill and since I have Multiple Sclerosis and I work, I need to get sleep to remain healthy and mentally alert. You are my earthbound Angels – Thank You!”
 ~ Housing Stability participant

Thank You! children's art

Join us for a program assessment of Seattle Community Voice Mail

Solid Ground’s Community Voice Mail (CVM) program has been using voice mail technology to connect homeless and phoneless folks to employers, housing and family for more than 20 years. With the technology landscape rapidly changing, the program has been looking at how it can continue to help low-income people overcome barriers to communications and technology. Two graduate students from the University of Washington Evans School of Public Affairs undertook an in-depth program assessment this year and will be presenting their findings at Solid Ground on June 6. The event is also an ice cream social!

The project involved evaluating the CVM program, assessing the communications needs and barriers of the clients it serves, and strategizing to expand and evolve the CVM program to keep up with clients’ needs in the 21st century. The findings and recommendations go beyond what CVM currently offers to examine the broader communications and technology needs of very low-income people in King County.

CVM Present & Future: Presentation
Wednesday, June 6, 4-5:30 pm
Solid Ground Headquarters, 1st Floor Main Conference Room
1501 North 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98103

At “CVM Present & Future” you will:

  • Learn the findings from the Seattle CVM program assessment
  • Understand the telecommunications needs of low-income people
  • Consider recommendations for the future of Seattle CVM
  • Discover new low-income telecommunications programs
  • Hear the stories of CVM clients and agency partners
  • Reveal CVM National’s new direction
  • Enjoy free ice cream!

There will be brief comments from staff, program participants and CVM National, and then the UW interns will present the findings and recommendations of the CVM program assessment, followed by questions and answers.

Seattle Community Voice Mail Seattle is a partnership between Solid Ground and the Community Voice Mail National Office (which is unveiling a new name soon!).

To RSVP, or for more information, please email cvm@solid-ground.org.

A life transformed by hope

“They just thought it was my phone. That saved me from shame,” Samuel said. “That gave me the feeling that I was a normal guy."

Samuel grew up in a tough neighborhood, but life at home was even tougher. The third of 14 children, he struggled with poverty, abuse and emotional distance from his family. When he left home at 18, his bottled-up anger ultimately led to some bad decisions that triggered a cycle of homelessness.

Although he was jobless and living in shelters, it was important for him to keep his dignity. Samuel avoided telling friends he was struggling, and he wasn’t in touch with family members. He was isolated and simply trying to survive. When he began to look for work, he found the job hunt nearly impossible without a home – or a phone. It was at this critical point that he stumbled on a life-changing opportunity: Community Voice Mail (CVM).

“Normally, you don’t recognize the value of something until afterwards,” said Samuel. “But then I didn’t have a phone, so I knew how important it was and I used it right away.”

Samuel put his CVM number on his résumé and gave it out to potential employers when he applied for jobs. A CVM number looks like any other local number, so no one knew about his personal situation. Employers would call and leave messages, and Samuel would call back – often using courtesy phones in hospitals or social service agencies.

“They just thought it was my phone. That saved me from shame,” he said. “That gave me the feeling that I was a normal guy. This was one less problem I had to deal with. There’s no way I could have done it without CVM.”

According to Samuel, one of the most underrated aspects of phones is their ability to bring people together. This simple fact was borne out as soon as Samuel got his CVM number; his family was finally able to call him. “My sister, who I didn’t speak to for years, all of a sudden left me a message on that phone. I kept the message for more than a year.”

As a society, we often focus on the immediate concerns of food and shelter, but Samuel believes CVM offers something equally vital: human contact. “When you feed someone, you’re keeping them alive. When you’re communicating with them, you’re giving them hope – and a chance.”

For Samuel, CVM provided this human touch through its Broadcast Messaging service, where he got news about job fairs, housing opportunities and other relevant information. And, because the CVM messages always came from the same friendly voice, Samuel reflected, it felt like someone cared about him. “It was almost like having an activist on your side.”

That voice also told Samuel there were a lot of people out there just like him – that he was not alone. He was able to connect with people in similar situations, who were dealing with the same issues he faced. CVM gave him the ability and the encouragement he needed to seek help and move forward.

Today, Samuel is a youth counselor. He uses his past experience and the wisdom he’s gained to help other young people overcome the challenges of homelessness and despair. He cheers when kids achieve “baby steps,” and always tries to be that voice of hope that was so vital to him. “I quickly recognized that I felt better when I was helping someone,” he said. “I think that’s the key.”

(Editor’s note: Thanks to our friends at CVM National for gathering this story! Samuel got his voice mailbox through Seattle Community Voice Mail, which is a program of Solid Ground. The national office, which is headquartered in Seattle, supports CVM systems in communities across the country.)


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