Google gives phone numbers to San Francisco's homeless

Through its Grand Central subsidiary that it acquired last year, Google will provide phone numbers to homeless people in San Francisco by working with the city's shelters.

The project, dubbed Communications and Respect for Everybody (CARE) will join up with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's Project Homeless Connect (HPC) to accomplish this. Along with lifetime access to a permanent phone number, the project offers voicemail as well.

Google and San Francisco will also allow homeless shelters and agencies to create new accounts for their residents. The Mountain View-based company has already handed out more than 4,000 voicemail accounts to homeless people across the city, but the latest announcement marks the first time it will work directly with the homeless shelters.

People in the program are able to check their voicemail using a PIN by calling their assigned number from any phone. The voicemail system works similar to mobile phone service providers in the United States. Both Google and Mayor Newsom's office insist people who dial the phone number of a program participant will be unaware that it is any different than any other voicemail system.

Grand Central allows users to route their phone lines -- home, mobile and business -- to another location, and set the system to ring all, one or two, or none of the phones, depending on who is calling.

As more employers and health clinics require a phone number as a bare minimum for communication purposes, this initiative will hopefully give homeless people a lending hand towards getting back on their feet.

"We're firm believers in the power of technology to improve the daily lives of individuals and communities as a whole, and we recognize that access to phone and voicemail services is one way that GrandCentral can help San Francisco's homeless stay connected with family, friends, social workers, health care providers, and potential employers," Google Senior Product Manager Craig Walker said in a post to the Google Blog.

Assuming the effort is successful during its pilot run in San Francisco, Google plans to work with other cities and agencies to create similar programs across the country.

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