Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly print newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our November 2013 lead story.
For a guy like Mike, every dollar counts. Due to health issues, he lives on very limited Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), so access to free and low-cost resources really helps him make ends meet and stay connected with his family, friends and doctors. For this reason, Solid Ground’s ConnectUp program has become essential to his day-to-day well-being.
The program originated in 1991 as Community Voice Mail (CVM), offering free voice mail numbers that can be checked from any phone for people experiencing homelessness or unable to afford phone services. Since then, telecommunications technologies have transformed, creating many new ways for people to stay in touch. So this past year, the program adopted a new name – ConnectUp – to reflect its new services.
Today, in addition to free voice mail, the program connects people living on low incomes with free cell phones and low-cost computers, internet access, home phones and smart phones. Additionally, through a service called the Resource Wire, ConnectUp broadcasts information via multiple formats (voice mail, email and social media), letting people know about a wide variety of community resources such as job opportunities, housing services, healthcare, family and veterans resources, and more.
A lifeline to community
Several years ago, Mike lived through a period of homelessness up in Skagit County. When he became eligible for SSDI, it enabled him to get transitional housing in Seattle and live closer to his family. That’s when he first discovered free voice mail through CVM (now ConnectUp).
He describes what this service meant to him: “I always tell Lambert how helpful this is for me. When I first got it, I would have some way people could get a hold of me. I had a phone, but I was paying by the minute for it, so I only got a little bit at a time. It was costing me a lot of money, and I don’t have a lot of money. So then Jeffrey, my little brother, told me about you, and man, I’ve been with you ever since!”
Through ConnectUp, he also got free cell phone and low-cost internet services, which helped him establish relationships with doctors and medical services so critical to his health. But later when Mike had to move to Renton in order to use his housing voucher – far from his doctors in Seattle – ConnectUp’s Program Supervisor Lambert Rochfort connected Mike with a Solid Ground Family Assistance Benefits Attorney. “I called her because I was having medical issues in Renton, and she gave me some contacts and told me what I needed to do” to get permission to use his voucher back in Seattle. Thanks to having reliable ways to stay in touch with his doctor, friends and the attorney, he says they “got all the paperwork done, and I was able to get out of downtown Renton and closer to my doctor and other resources.”
Currently, Mike is happy that Solid Ground’s free Downtown Circulator Bus has a stop right outside his apartment building. “I like it; I had surgery done on my ankle, and I don’t drive.” But he says he hopes the service will eventually expand its route, because grocery shopping is still tough for him. “My arms start hurting, and I can only carry up to about 15 pounds.”
A lifeline to resources
Mike’s favorite thing about ConnectUp is the Resource Wire: “That is so much help to me. If there’s something going on with medical for free, or checkups, dental or haircuts – Lambert puts out voice mails and says what’s going on.”
Mike gets both voice mails and emails and says it’s nice to get the messages in both formats: “I don’t read or write well,” so voice mail is more useful to him, “because I can hear it.” But emails help as well, “Then if I need to copy it, or let somebody else know about it, I can send it to ‘em. My daughter has two little ones; she’s single, and she don’t make very much money. He put out a voice mail about school supplies; I called my daughter, and she took her little ones and got some paper and books and a backpack.”
Via the Resource Wire, he heard about the Community Resource Exchange, an event where people living on low incomes receive a wealth of information and free services such as haircuts and dental care, right on the spot. Mike says, “I like going to that; you can get a lot of help there.”
Returning the favor
While Mike has received quite a few resources via ConnectUp, he’s also given back in spades, participating in focus groups that led to both expanded services and the program name change. He says, “I like the name ConnectUp. It’s easy to remember, and tells me that the program does a lot of different things.”
He’s also helping to complete the information loop: Through a friend of his, he learned about a device which connects to your internet and a home phone, allowing you to make and receive phone calls for free. Mike told ConnectUp about the device, and Lambert tells him, “I heard about this from you, and we’ve been letting lots of other people know.”
In a situation like his, Mike could easily live a very isolated life. But via these services, he says, “I call my daughter and I call Jeffrey – I call my doctors and my doctors can call me.” In the past, “I always hit little dead-end walls. But with Solid Ground and ConnectUp, I mostly get over ‘em, one way or another. If you don’t have the resource, you know somebody where I can go get the resource. Solid Ground sure puts a lot of information out there! They do good work for people!”
For more information on ConnectUp, visit our website or contact the program at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.694.6771.