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Free voice mail provider struggling to survive

Lack of support puts service for homeless people in jeopardy

by Robert Devet

The Red Bear Healing Home Society has been providing a free answering service for homeless people and people living in poverty. It's doing it on a shoestring budget though, and Executive Director Carla Conrod wishes that government would step up its support.
The Red Bear Healing Home Society has been providing a free answering service for homeless people and people living in poverty. It's doing it on a shoestring budget though, and Executive Director Carla Conrod wishes that government would step up its support.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A small non-profit group that provides a vital service for people living in poverty, homeless people, women in violent relationships, and many others, is struggling to survive.

Whether you are looking for a job, an apartment, or any kind of support, a phone number where you can be reached is essential. But many people can't afford a phone.

Now there is a solution.

The Red Bear Healing Home Society offers free voice mail to people living in poverty in Nova Scotia. Participants receive a telephone number with an extension to a voice mail box so people can leave messages for jobs, housing, health care, or simply to keep in touch with family and friends.

“I wanted to do something like this for a long time. When I lived in Vancouver there was no money, and I had to use the free voice mail there myself,” founder and director Carla Conrod tells the Halifax Media Co-op. “So when I came to Nova Scotia I decided to offer the service here.”

The idea took off quickly.

Since its inception in 2013 the society has supported more than 200 people. A survey provides insight into their circumstances.

Eighty percent of participants struggle to survive on less than $10,000 per year. More than half reported that they were homeless. Another thirty percent or so were at risk of homelessness.

Forty percent of the participants named social assistance as their main source of income.

A shocking thirty percent report that they have no source of income whatsoever.

It's an extremely useful service, almost all participants agree.

“For those who live in hard times it's better to leave personal messages instead of (having a) shelter employee answer, stating where you live at this time,” one of the subscribers reported.

“I don't have a phone... eases the stress on my neighbours so I don't have to borrow,” writes another.

But maintaining the service is expensive, and the Red Bear Healing Home Society is struggling to make ends meet.

There's about $8000 in the bank, yet a realistic annual budget is more like $35,000, says Conrod, who has not received any remuneration for over a year.

A request for help from the provincial Department of Community Services last year went nowhere.

"I hear their stories, people tell me what they are going through, and I believe them that they are having a hard time. So I don't want to cut them off, take away the only way that they can be contacted,” Conrod says. “I don't understand that the (potential) funders don't see this.”

 

You can make a donation by calling 902 448-4744 or email info@redbearhealinghome.ca. To help with costs involved in the provision of free voice mail the service is also available to those who can pay.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter

 


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