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services for homeless people?

 
 
Kyler Laird
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      08-21-2004
In looking at lots of PSTN interconnection providers recently it
strikes me that it might be reasonable to provide VoIP "courtesy
phones" in public locations for people who need to get in touch
with far-away family. My first thought was that college
students would appreciate this. Most of them already have
mobile phones though, and I expect those who don't are in a
fairly good position to figure out a reasonable way to make
calls.

OTOH, we (along with most every other community) have a
population of people who do not have mobile phones, do not have
home phones, and often do not have the resources to pursue
efficient calling strategies (VoIP, calling cards, ...). Yet I
suspect that they would appreciate being able to get in touch
with their familiies, friends and even conduct some personal
business over the phone.

Over the years I've read several stories about "voicemail for
the homeless." Searching through Google I see that they're
typically sponsored by big companies (Cisco, Bell, ...). It
makes a lot of sense to have a carrier involved with providing
voicemail but what about going beyond that?

I'm thinking that an outgoing PSTN service could easily be
shared among some phones located in places that already serve
homeless clients. Just plopping down some phones with limited
dialplans might be sufficient but perhaps tracking users would
be required in order to reduce/identify abuse?

If users are tracked (authenticated), it would be easy to
provide voicemail services. Clients could even arrange "meet
me" incoming service, receiving calls in realtime if they are
registered with a device.

This could also be a good way to provide information to the
community. Fast notification to specific populations about
resources of interest (jobs, food, education, entertainment,
....) might be beneficial. (I have had almost no experience
working with homeless people so I don't know what's needed.)

So what would be required? I'm just getting started with using
Asterisk but I don't see any reason that it wouldn't be a great
foundation for such a system. There are plenty of PSTN
interconnection services. Those could be chosen and changed as
required. Hardware at each client location could be something
along the lines of a Sipura SPA-1000.

The real trick would be getting sufficient IP service to client
locations. This is becoming a lot easier but it's certainly an
issue. At first, services could be offered at locations
already served by broadband (like libraries) with very little
investment. With success (and as broadband prices drop) it
could be expanded to more locations. Perhaps a community-run
wireless network could be used?

Anyway...I mostly wanted to talk through this idea but I
welcome comments. I'm especially interested in knowing if
anyone has already deployed such a service with Asterisk.

Thank you.

--kyler
 
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