Homeless, unemployed to get cell phones, voicemail

For most people, cell phones and the connectivity they provide are an essential part of modern life. For those who are homeless, poor or unemployed, not having access to a phone can make a bad situation worse — a problem that two B.C. initiatives are attempting to address.

In Prince George, the Metis Housing Society has started a new program called “Community Voicemail.” The organization will provide a bank of phone numbers with voicemail to agencies that work with homeless and unemployed people. Users will be able to check their messages from any phone.

Leo Hebert, executive director of the society, says it’s difficult for employers and service providers to reach people who don't own phones.

“So let's say if it's a doctor, or in our case, where we provide housing support, housing services,” explains Hebert. “Our property manager could leave a message for that person to say we have a house available for them.”

Hebert says the program — for which the society is currently raising funds — will reduce barriers to finding housing and employment.

Meanwhile, an initiative to help seniors in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside stay connected is being launched today. The P.H.S. Community Services Society is collecting used cell phones without SIM cards for seniors living in poverty.

P.H.S. executive director Liz Evans says the phones are for emergency use.

"The idea is that we can provide cell phones and chargers without SIM cards. They still have access to 9-1-1, and the purpose would be just for emergencies, so that they could contact emergency services if they had an accident."

Evans says collections boxes will be set up in Vancity bank branches across the city, with the hope of collecting 500 cell phones and chargers by Christmas.

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