For about 500 homeless people each year, Arundel House of Hope in Glen Burnie has provided temporary housing, case management and, until now, one shared phone number.
Without telephone numbers to include on job applications, gaining employment can prove difficult. And without a job, finding a permanent home seems impossible.
"If they get a call from an employer, the phone is answered, 'Arundel House of Hope,'" said director of development Mary Alexander. "That opens up a whole bag of worms."
A recent charitable contribution of 40 voice mailboxes from Mavenspire Inc., a Hanover technology company, should help ease the strain.
Melissa Cavanaugh, head of marketing with Mavenspire, said that starting today, each House of Hope client will be given a telephone number with an extension.
Callers will dial the number and hear a ring, then will be prompted to leave a voice-mail message. The clients can check their voice mailboxes from any number using a password.
"It's not just a voice-mail system; it's real phone numbers that employers can call to contact potential employees," Cavanaugh said. "It's something that we can do very inexpensively but still provide a very valuable service, and we're hoping to expand it to as many as 4,000 users."
Donte Wesley, 31, a homeless man from Baltimore who is residing at the Fouse Center, a transitional housing center for homeless men in Anne Arundel, said he will be looking for a job in the next month and that the private phone number will be a big help.
"Like right now, we have our house phone. If nobody's there, it might not be answered," said Wesley, who is working at a Halloween costume store that will close after the holiday. "And some people can forget to give your messages. The voice box will definitely have our voice. So it will definitely be a big help."
The homeless clients can use the phones at the Arundel House or the Fouse Center, but they say it can be a deterrent to prospective employers.
"A lot of times unfortunately, there's a huge stigma attached to homeless, and individuals don't want to give people a chance," Alexander said. "It's really a way for them to eliminate some of the stigma that has to go with being homeless and give them a fair shot at getting some permanent employment."
In addition to using the voice mail to communicate with prospective employers, said James Harris, 32, a homeless man from Prince George's County who also resides at the Fouse Center, he will be able to talk to his family.
Harris has been homeless for about six months, because, he said, "I had a lot of deaths in my family."
"Not only for work, but if a family member calls for an emergency," Harris said. "We're mostly out in the daytime going to meetings and looking for jobs, so the little bit of family I do have, I'll be able to keep in touch with them."