The unemployed and homeless in Richmond and Columbia counties have a way to remain connected thanks to the United Way of the CSRA.
Community Voice Mail provides people who qualify with a free voice mailbox.
Until September, the United Way of Aiken County offered Community Voice Mail to the Augusta area through its 2-1-1 service, a hot line for people seeking social services.
The Aiken County agency ended the service because of funding cuts, said Janice Leonard-Hoffman, the executive director.
The United Way of the CSRA picked it up Jan. 1, said Nancy Szocinski, the 2-1-1 coordinator for the agency.
Locally, the service is now available only in Richmond and Columbia counties, but it's expected to expand to Burke, Jefferson, McDuffie and Lincoln counties within the next six months, she said.
Samaritan House in Atlanta is the only other agency in Georgia that offers the service, according to the Community Voice Mail Web site.
Community Voice Mail provides those who qualify with a free voice mailbox, each with its own number that people can call and leave messages.
The number is able only to receive messages, and people aren't able to talk with a person or call out. The voice mailbox can be accessed from any touch-tone phone once it's set up.
"It's a great tool because it gives those who are unemployed or homeless a telephone number that stays constant even though they can't," she said. "The theory is that they'll find work much faster with this tool."
The voice mail number looks like any other home or cell phone number, she added.
"It's excellent because it doesn't stigmatize that person," Szocinski said.
To qualify for the service, a person has to visit one of the designated Community Voice Mail agencies, she said.
The agencies review each person's situation and look for qualifications such as financial need and lack of reliable phone service.
They also find out whether the person is looking for work, housing, health care or protection from domestic violence.
The goal is to reach those who could really benefit from Community Voice Mail, Szocinski said.
"Telephone service is one thing that goes by the wayside when you need to use the money you have to pay your rent or for heating or for food. Or, if you're homeless, you don't have it all," she said. "This is another way for us to reach out and help people in need."