Homeless offered voice-mail service Messages taken for 40 at shelter BALTIMORE CITY


Being jobless and homeless may no longer mean being phoneless.

Bell Atlantic Mobile and the Salvation Army announced a pilot program yesterday that will provide free voice-mail message services for 40 homeless people to assist in their efforts at finding work and permanent shelter.

The Bell Atlantic HopeLine, as the program is called, will "enable Salvation Army case managers to help their phoneless clients communicate with prospective employers and landlords," the company said.

"By having a phone number answered with a voice mail message, which is similar to using an answering machine, homeless individuals can keep contact with the outside world -- while avoiding the misperceptions associated with living in a homeless shelter," Robert Johnson, a Bell Atlantic regional vice president, said at a news conference.

The HopeLine initially will have about 40 users -- a number both Bell Atlantic and the Salvation Army thought would be manageable. "But if the list needs to be expanded, we would have no objections to it," said Mr. Johnson.

Providing the service to 40 people would cost the company about $3,000 a year, he said.

Salvation Army case workers will issue group telephone numbers to the 40 homeless people for use in applying for jobs or housing. Prospective employers or landlords who call will get a message asking the name of the person they are trying to reach.

Case workers will check the messages three times a day and pass them along to their homeless clients, who will have access to telephones at the Salvation Army's Booth House -- a shelter for women and children in the 1100 block of N. Calvert St.

As users obtain jobs or find housing, the Salvation Army workers will replace them with others who need such help.

Bell Atlantic is helping us fight crime, and now it's helping us fight homelessness," said Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who attended the news conference along with Salvation Army Maj. Frank Gordon and proclaimed yesterday "Bell Atlantic Mobile Day."

Major Gordon said the HopeLine "will give us an added dimension" in assisting the homeless.

Bell Atlantic also provided a transportable cellular telephone for the Salvation Army's FeedMore van, which provides 200 free meals nightly to Baltimore's homeless population from October through April.

In addition, the company launched a campaign through Sept. 25 collect nonperishable food and personal toiletry items for the Salvation Army at Bell Atlantic Mobile stores in Baltimore, Timonium and Annapolis.

Earlier, eight volunteers from the company helped the Salvation Army renovate the courtyard of Booth House, buying and installing plants, outdoor furniture and climbing equipment for a children's playground.

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