The Free Voice Mail Services for People Who are Very Low Income and Homeless that we provide are in jeopardy. Below is more detailed information about this service and the other programs that we offer.

Open Access partners with community agencies and organizations to offer these services. Participants connect with one of our 350 partner agencies to receive a free voice mail number. Open Access encourages agency staff to tailor our voice mail services to the needs of their clients and their agency. 2,200 people use voice mail daily and have an individual voice mail number. Voice mail is available throughout the state of Minnesota.

60,000 people have completed using Open Access voice mail services since we began (as Twin Cities Community Voice Mail) in 1994. On average, the clients use their voice mail an average of 185 days (6 months). In 2010, 4,590 people used a voice mail number. In 2010, people stayed on voice mail a total of 225 days (about 7½ months). People use voice mail longer now because of the economic downturn. The 4,590 people had 2,603 children. These participants set 12,853 goals for themselves and achieved 58% of these goals. Specifically:

  • 58% of people seeking employment using Open Access Connections voice mail found jobs.
  • 3,055 of the people using Open Access Connections were homeless and used Open Access Connections to connect with landlords to find homes for themselves and their children.68 % of those seeking housing found it.
  • Of the victims of domestic abuse who sought safe communications, 62% found it while using Open Access Connections voice mail.
  • 46% of voice mail participants seeking to stay in touch with health care providers were able to achieve this goal.
  • 51% people without phones who needed social services agencies were able to achieve their goals.

52% of voice mail users are African American, 28% are white, 8% are Native American, 4% are Hispanic, 1% are Asian, and 5% are multi-cultural. 46% are between the ages of 26-44, 22% are between 19 and 25, 28% are over 45, and 3% are under the age of 18. 80% are unemployed and 70% are homeless. 18% are disabled.

Grass-Roots Outreach Project

We have trained active voice mail users to perform voice mail outreach at targeted locations within the Twin Cities area. Locations include the Dorothy Day Center, the Salvation Army Harbor Light, Catholic Charities Opportunity Center, Goodwill Easter Seals, the food shelf program at the West 7th Street Salvation Army, free meal programs at Bethlehem Church and Faith Lutheran Church, and the wellness clinic at First Lutheran Church. In one year, this project has distributed over 500 voice mail numbers. It has also given job experience to the voice mail users performing the outreach. These outreach workers provide needed resource information to voice mail users that they connect.

Voice Mail Broadcasting

With a single phone call we are able to leave a message for all 2,200 active voice mail users. We do broadcasts on services available to participants, events and issues of concern to them such as availability of job fairs, employment opportunities, voter engagement, financial literacy programs, health care resources, opportunities for training and education, help with taxes, food giveaways and other food programs.

Metro Shelter Hotline
Through its voice mail system, Open Access Connections is able to offer people who are homeless the ability to access information on available emergency shelters and transitional housing programs. Through one free call (on a 1-800 number), the hotline offer s individuals, families and youth information on location, eligibility rules, and contact phone numbers for shelters and transitional housing throughout the seven county metro area. We receive about 10,000 calls to this hotline each year.

Cell Phone Project
We are currently administering a pilot cell phone project that distributes 30 prepaid cell phones to homeless people participating in a Rapid Re-housing or Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) application program. We partnered with Catholic Charities, Face 2 Face Safe Zone, Health Care for the Homeless, and the St. Paul YWCA to identify recipients of the prepaid cell phones. Case workers have already noted that people receiving cell phones have greater housing, employment, and SSI application outcomes than people without cell phones.

Bringing Internet Access to People who are Homeless
Our Netbook Lending Library lends 10 netbooks to about 30-40 homeless people. Participants use the netbooks to learn computer skills, create résumés, apply for jobs, look for housing, research health information, and communicate with friends and family. We hope to use the results of this program help us implement our long term goal of opening a free internet café for homeless people.

We are currently in the planning process for opening an internet café that will serve homeless and low-income people. We believe that the internet café will be a resource for people to work and apply for jobs, create resumes, look for housing, keep in touch with health care providers, communicate with friends and family, and participate in social media. It will also provide an opportunity to gain basic internet and computer literacy.

Organizing and Engaging Low Income and Homeless People

Membership of our 50+ Group is composed of people over the age of 50 who are currently or have been recently homeless. The goal of this group is to provide an opportunity for homeless people to form a sense a community and discuss issues affecting the homeless population. The 50+ Group is currently focusing on the application process for the SSI.

Our Advisory Group is composed of people that currently use our voice mail service. The Goal of the Advisory group is to provide input to Open Access Connections and become active on issues currently affecting homeless people. The Advisory Group is currently focusing their efforts on employment, the state of the job market, and how homeless and very low-income people often get shut out of the hiring process.

Research and Advocacy

Open Access researches the communication needs of homeless and very low-income people. We have conducted extensive studies seeking the experience of homeless and very low-income people to develop a framework for providing cell phones and gaining internet access. Recently, we completed a major study on available internet access for very low-income people and what participants would want in an internet center. We recently had a public meeting to release this report (see website news section).We are currently are advocating for the development of a federal Lifeline-funded program for cell phones in Minnesota and for policy issues regarding the federal Universal Services Fund.