With jobs being eliminated and people losing their homes to foreclosure, many consumers need resources and relief. Sadly, some consumers find themselves without a permanent place to live or a way to be contacted by family, potential employers, landlords, emergency shelters or social service agencies. Not having a telephone number to put on employment and housing applications may be a tremendous obstacle to getting a job or maintaining housing. Also, messages left by family members, friends and others may not always be relayed.
For the past year, the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) has partnered with Leader Technologies and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks to offer a free service, Leader Voice Mail, for individuals without access to telephone service in the 419 area code. Leader Technologies is a private corporation that donated its equipment and technical expertise to support the voice mail program.
Consumers searching for a job, a place to live or seeking to stay in touch with family, medical professionals or social service agencies have the opportunity to access their own confidential voice mail number to access their messages.
Clients may retrieve their messages from any touch-tone telephone, including wireless, or by using the Internet. Residents in the 419 area code, which includes 24 counties, may apply to receive Leader Voice Mail with any participating social service agency in their area. Eligibility is determined according to the client’s level of need. So far, hundreds of Northwest Ohio individuals have been assisted through Leader Voice Mail.
While residents in crisis are the main beneficiaries, Leader Voice Mail also helps social service agencies as well. During difficult times, many assistance organizations have been overwhelmed by the number of people without a telephone seeking a variety of services. Social service agencies are better able to respond to their clients’ individual needs by having the ability to leave messages for them.
The concept of voice mail for people in need is part of a nationwide effort initially made available in 2000 to Ohioans in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties through Community Voice Mail, a national nonprofit organization. The Community Voice Mail network has expanded its efforts to include Summit County.
Recently, a new state law directed regulators to implement an additional community voice mail pilot program in Ohio for two years in one rural and one urban community.
Residents interested obtaining Leader Voice Mail may contact a participating agency, which includes local community action agencies as well as homeless and domestic violence shelters. To find out more information about Leader Voice Mail, consumers can contact the OCC at 1-877-PICKOCC (1-877-742-5622) or learn about the service by visiting our website at www.pickocc.org.