History and future

Looking Back: How We Began

In 1994, when a planning group began discussions of the possibility of a network of voice mail numbers for people who are poor and homeless, their initial expectations were very modest: “Should we start with just Minneapolis, or could we do Minneapolis and St. Paul? Could we get as many as 30 agencies to participate?”

In the 15 years since those first planning meetings, Twin Cities Community Voice Mail has grown to become Open Access Connections, a national leader in connecting people who do not have phones with the communities to which they belong through the seemingly simple technology of voice mail boxes.

Today 350 agencies across the entire state of Minnesota partner with Open Access Connections to allow nearly 5,000 individuals and families each year to have a safe and secure place to receive messages from employers, landlords, children’s schools, doctors, social service providers, family members and friends.

Looking Ahead: Open Access Connection’s Future
Integrating new technology is vital to our mission and the way we serve participants. Not having a phone is a major problem for people. It prevents them from responding to job offers in a timely fashion. It keeps them from quickly connecting with potential landlords. One of our top priorities is exploring how cell phones can enhance our services.

Helping support the participants who use voice mail is a key focus for Open Access Connections. Participants tend to be computer-savvy and need online connections as well as phone connections. We are exploring options to help them enhance ability to access Internet service. We are also developing demo programs that provide participants with cell phones, And finally, we will continue to find creative ways – online and offline – for participants to connect.

Recent technologies and issues we monitor:

  • Bridging the digital divide and promoting digital inclusion – make sure low income people have equal access to technology. Equal access means that we have to subsidize the use of technology by low income people so they can afford to use computers, cell phones, the internet, etc. Equal access also means providing the tools for digital literacy in a way that is comfortable for the people that we serve.
  • Broadband access – monitor federal and state policy to ensure that homeless and low income people have free or low-cost and adequate internet access.
  • Cell phones – research and develop program with free or low-cost cell phones. For example through the Lifeline Program, supported by the  Federal Communications Commission Universal Service Fund (not currently available in Minnesota), participants get free minutes. We currently have a cell phone project where participants in the St. Paul Rapid Rehousing project receive cell phones.
  • Digital TV – helped low income people make the transition to digital TV.

We have always been an advocate for low income Minnesotans, and as we become aware of opportunities like these, we will find ways for participants in our state to take advantage of these new programs.