Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Google helps the homelss

By Leslie Poston

Is it a publicity stunt at the expense of the homeless or a real gesture of hope? Google has announced that it will provide the homeless population of San Francisco with free voice mail for life. The system would give each homeless person who accepts it a free phone number with voice mail, for life.

The voice mail can be checked from any phone, giving the homeless unprecedented access to one of the basic life necessities the rest of us take for granted. Already people are saying this is nothing more than a gimmick for the company, known for its “Do no evil” slogan. It does seem that way on the surface, until you realize that Google isn’t innovating with this service idea.

GrandCentral, the company Google acquired last year that offers free phone numbers you can forward to any number in the United States, has even offered a similar service before. Now Google is using its clout and the GrandCentral service platform to roll out the service again.

Google isn’t the only company to offer this kind of service. Community Voice Mail offers free voice mail for people who are going through a crisis (homelessness definitely qualifies as a crisis).

To use the service being offered by Google via GrandCentral, the homeless have to accept the service. Once they do, they receive a number they can use for free for life, which is attached to voice mail. The homeless can then call their voice mail from any phone, any where, any time.

Is it a gimmick or stunt for Google? Of course it is. But it is one that really can do some good. It is incredibly hard to get and keep a job without a phone number, not to mention claiming benefits and other services we all take for granted. Too often the homeless can’t take advantage of basic services.

Having a phone number with voice mail attached opens a door back to the world for the disenfranchised and gives them respect and hope. How many of these disenfranchised homeless could there possibly be in the San Francisco area? Because of the temperate climate that makes it possible to be outside year round San Francisco attracts as many as 7000 or more homeless to its streets.

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