When you live in a five-sense city like New York, you inevitably grow immune to certain things: the pungent sidewalk smells on the sweatiest of summer days; sirens screaming outside your window every hour of the night; cattle calls at Penn station. But as hardened as I become, the one thing I’ll never get used to is the city’s homeless.
At least once a week while riding the subway, I encounter a homeless person pitching me for change or some food. I am constantly awed by the raw talent I witness – singing or reciting spoken word; some showcasing the natural finesse of a salesman, with witticisms many of us in business only wish for. I’ve always wondered though – if they are able-bodied enough to do a cold pitch in front of an entire room of strangers, why can’t they get a job as a dishwasher somewhere? If they would only funnel the energy they spend pitching for change into a real job…
Of course many of them might be doing that. But what I eventually realized was that without a home address or a phone number to contact them at, how could they possibly fill out a job application? Today the AP reported a story on the Community Voice Mail project, a program that first percolated in Seattle in the early 90s. For as little as $7 a month, a homeless person can now have their own phone number and voice mail system, enabling them to follow-up on job leads. CVM reported they helped 47,000 people find jobs and housing last year. An idea so simple, yet so impactful.
Similar to micro-lending (the practice of giving small loans to disadvantaged people in order for them to grow their own businesses), CVM is an basic idea that truly empowers people to take back the reigns on their life. What seemingly simple ideas have you come across that truly make a difference?