What most of us see of homelessness in the Twin Cities are men and women and some children layered in their remaining clothes, perhaps gathering in the courtyard at Dorothy Day Center or waiting for a slot at a St. Stephens shelter or something like it. Some may be drunk, many may be wandering, perhaps talking to themselves, dual disabilities not uncommon. Many are dressed in military garb, riddled with war-induced PTSD, unable to keep it together to hold a job or their family intact. But, thousands are none of these. Most are neighbors, friends and colleagues made homeless by job loss and foreclosure in an economy made rotten by corporate bankers and the politicians who enabled their thievery – still do…Before and after the so-called "Great Recession."
What almost all of them are looking for, of course, besides a meal or place to stay – is a job and permanent housing. But they have no telephone, and certainly no way of leaving a number for a potential employer or landlord to call.
Almost invisible in this morass is a small nonprofit serving as a communications clearing house and message center for homeless men and women. Now called Open Access Connections, the former Twin Cities Community Voice Mail changed its name and expanded its reach beyond the Cities and is making technology work to connect those experiencing homelessness with people and opportunities to cut all of that short and to find housing and jobs a lot sooner than they could otherwise. It all sounds fairly simple; it’s anything but. Many have no idea such services are available so it requires a gargantuan effort to find those who can use voicemail, email and other communications tools and training to score a job or an apartment.
This week, TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and LYNNELL MICKELSEN talk with organizers, agencies and participants in this extraordinary effort to make homelessness go away and allow self-sufficiency to take over through technology.