Universal Voice Mail

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Jenn Brandon
Community Technology Institute

How do you find a job without a telephone? How do you avail yourself of services, receive timely information, or stay connected to loved ones if you do not have a reliable message number? Even in this very "wired" age, the need for a phone number remains and if you are homeless or phoneless, the lack of a constant telephone number becomes a very real obstacle. Voicemail is a low-cost solution that substitutes for dialtone for those unable to afford it.


Community Voice Mail works very well in urban environments where there is existing infrastructure (both phone service, community providers, and payphones); however, the need for the service exists anywhere there are disconnected people.

The audience of users runs the gamut from the homeless to the working poor to people fleeing domestic violence or dealing with health problems in need of a confidential communication link that is easy to access.


In 199, two program directors at the Seattle Worker Center conceived of a small project that had unpredictably potent impact. Called Community Voice Mail, the idea responded practically to a specific problem: how can a homeless person possibly find work or housing, receive medical or social services, or navigate daily life without a reliable and direct point of contact? Furthermore, how can the job developer, the doctor, the advocate, in short, the social services system charged with the mission to respond to the needs of the poor and homeless, do so efficiently and effectively if they must devote hours to tracking down the individuals they serve?

Community Voice Mail (www.cvm.org) responds to this need by acting like a home answering machine for thousands of people across a community. The CVM service is a shared resource that is operated by the CVM National Office and a local community-based organization that takes on the role of host. This host builds a network of participating agencies to maximize the distribution of the resource cost-effectively. People in crisis and transition may enroll in CVM via their participation in any number of social, human or health services agencies in the community. By providing multiple points of access, the service allows for practical and flexible eligibility criteria while maintaining basic measurement standards.

As of 2006, the program operates in 39 U.S. cities, connecting more than 46,000 people. The CVM National Office provides guidance on how to start a CVM service and supports the resulting federation of peer sites. service agencies. Currently, Cisco Systems is the majority funder of the nonprofit program.


Universal voicemail should be available as a low-cost alternative to telephone service so that all people, regardless of income, have a reliable point of contact that maintains dignity and restores connection to opportunity and support.

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