According to MSNBC, Google have announced that they are offering every homeless person in San Francisco a phone number and voicemail to help them get back on their feet. The number given will be theirs for life and messages will be able to be picked up from any phone, with no indication to the caller that the service is different from any other voicemail system. Working with the City of San Francisco, Google launched the scheme at a Project Homeless Connect event on Wednesday.
Mayor Gavin Newsom and Google said they want to empower people. “How do you communicate as a homeless individual? ” Newsom asked. “How do you expect your life to turn around if you can’t even get information or if someone can’t even get in touch with you?”
“It just seems exactly like any other voice mail,” said Craig Walker, senior project manager of Google. “There’s no stigma attached to it that ‘hey this is a temporary thing’ or ‘this is an 800 number.’ It’s really just a local number owned by the user.”
“We’re firm believers in the power of technology to improve the daily lives of individuals and communities as a whole, and we recognize that access to phone and voicemail services is one way that Google can help San Francisco’s homeless stay connected with family, friends, social workers, health care providers, and potential employers.”
If the program is successful in San Francisco the plan is to offer it to homeless people in cities across the state and country.
However, it looks like Google might be making good promotional use of the already succesful Project CARE (Communications and Respect for Everybody) Program created by clever number aggregation service GrandCentral that Google acquired last year. Project CARE first hit the news in April 2006 offering the same free voicemail number for life service, and by October had registered more than 1,000 of the estimated 7,000 homeless in San Francisco. So the question is- is this just a Google PR stunt, or a case of poor journalism at MSNBC?
MSNBC: Google gives all SF Homeless Free Voicemail