Cell Phones for the Homeless Program
Be the Change in DC initiated a program in which it distributed prepaid phones to four DC homeless men who are eagerly looking for employment and housing. To learn more about these men, please click here.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, the phone is a necessity for modern life. Like the sleeping bags that Be the Change in DC distributes during the winter, the mobile phone is a relatively inexpensive item that has an immediate impact on the life of its user. The phones are used as a contact number for potential employers, family and friends, and pharmacies/doctors. The phone could also be used to reach the Shelter Hotline, a government-funded program that provides transportation to emergency shelters during extreme temperatures. In the past, Be the Change in DC has partnered with the Shelter Hotline so that it could give out sleeping bags in addition to the blankets, gloves and jackets it normally provides.
After Be the Change in DC conducted its successful trial of the prepaid phone initiative, Virgin Mobile USA agreed to sponsor the expansion of this program in DC and we are now in the process of searching for additional candidates.
Key Points of the Cell Phones for the Homeless program
- Prepaid cell phones are distributed to selected participants based on several personal encounters/interviews.
- Community Voice Mail (CVM), a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, provides its voicemail and information services for these phones as an added feature to the mobile phone’s normal features, including weekly voicemails sent to the phones that detail available local job opportunities to which our participants can apply For more detail about CVM, please visit its website: www.cvm.org.
- Be the Change in DC assigns a case manager to each cell phone participant, and we require all participants to check in on a weekly basis. These check-ins serve as a means for Be the Change in DC to create a support system that we believe is necessary to help someone get off the street. Additionally, this case manager is likely to quickly become an excellent reference for the participant as he/she applies for new jobs.
- Be the Change in DC also requires each participant to attend at least one free computer class at a local library such as those offered at the Martin Luther King, Jr. library (http://www.dclibrary.org/services/computer). We are also likely to partner with an organization that offers one-on-one goal-oriented, computer sessions for our cell phone program participants.
According to the Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee, there were approximately 5,757 homeless people living in the District in 2007. This report defines the homeless as people who reside in some form of emergency or transitional shelters, domestic violence shelters, runaway youth shelters, and places not meant for human habitation including streets, parks, alleys, abandoned buildings and stairways. This report also indicates that in 2007, there were 1,439 chronic homeless in emergency shelters and 321 chronic and unsheltered homeless for a total population of 1,760 chronic homeless within the District (excluding all surrounding neighborhoods). Through the distribution of sleeping bags, Be the Change in DC hopes to reach these persons living on the street.
1. Sleeping Bag Distribution
During the winter of 2008, Be the Change in DC began to alleviate the suffering of the homeless on the street by distributing sleeping bags to them. First, to raise funds and awareness of this endeavor, Be the Change in DC initiated an ad hoc fund-raising campaign. Through the use of email, fliers, and public internet forums such as Facebook, the organization garnered support from friends, family members, and others in the District. Although the focus was primarily on raising money to purchase new sleeping bags, donations of sleeping bags and blankets were also accepted. Be the Change in DC raised $1,200 dollars and various donations of sleeping bags and blankets during this two week fundraising campaign. Next, a few Board members used the funds raised to purchase 30 sleeping bags for distribution.
On a Saturday in February 2008, members of Be the Change in DC went to McPherson Square in the District and distributed sleeping bags and blankets to those in the park area of the square, just across the street from the metro station. There was a large homeless presence in this park, which is likely a result of its proximity to the metro station as well as a nearby homeless shelter. Distribution near a metro station was a successful strategy and therefore was attempted a few weeks later at the Dupont Circle metro station. Within a five block radius, volunteers from Be the Change in DC were able to distribute an additional 16 sleeping bags. This “on the ground” method of distribution has proved ideal for homeless persons who would not otherwise seek out programs and assistance.
2. Summer Distribution Event
Using the same distribution method as the sleeping bag event, Be the Change in DC distributes cold bottles of water during the summer. Over the past few years, the organization has given out over 500 bottles of water.
 Homeless Enumeration for the Washington Metropolitan Region