Cleveland Community Voice Mail is Up and Running

by Staci Santa

            After several months of planning, Cleveland Community Voice Mail has arrived. On January 12, 2000 the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) launched Cleveland Community Voice Mail (CVM), a voice mail service that acts like a home answering machine for hundreds of homeless and phoneless people. Commissioner Timothy McCormack and the Cuyahoga County Commissioners Office presented a resolution to welcome Community Voice Mail to the county. Michael Gibbs, Voice Mail program director, felt the event was successful, and was pleased with the turnout.

            The kick-off also hosted social service providers, recipients of the voice mail boxes and Marty Gelfand from Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office, who left the first voice mail message for James, a client from a local transitional facility. Mr. Gelfand congratulated James on being the first recipient and invited him to contact Congressman Kucinich’s office if they could be of any assistance. James later checked his messages, and the system was officially functioning in greater Cleveland. Following the kick-off many more agencies, such as Salvation Army PASS, Mental Health Services, and Templum House, were trained on how to enroll their clients for CVM. Gibbs will be training all 20 of the service providers and is looking for agencies which serve very low-income and homeless individuals who may need Voice Mail.

            Community Technology Institute has established voice mailbox systems in 31 other cities throughout the United States in the past ten years. Their pattern of success has demonstrated to Cleveland’s community that voice mail will be productive here as well. In order to assure success, NEOCH established agreements with twenty nonprofit agencies to initially allocate voice mailboxes. These agencies are responsible for established criteria to be eligible for a voice mailbox, maintaining contact with their clients and recycling the box to new clients after use. CVM staff will serve as technical assistance and staff consultation.

            A Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Americorps VISTA member began to secure funding for CVM in November 1998. Graciously, grants were awarded for the first two years of Community Voice Mail by several local foundations, including Abington, Cleveland, Gund, Murphy and Thomas White. NEOCH is currently seeking additional funding from government and corporate sources to stabilize CVM’s funding and ensure the program’s sustainability. As the program grows and clients are securing permanent housing and steady employment, Gibbs believes that CVM will guarantee that donors’ contributions are wisely invested.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 40, February 2000