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On Sept. 1, Miriam’s Kitchen and the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) debuted a system to provide people experiencing homelessness with text messages about local services and emergencies. A pilot of the service, D.C. Hope One Source, is set to end its final phase at the end of October. The program was developed in partnership with Hope One Source, which created a similar text message system to empower humanitarian aid in Haiti.

Individuals will be able to register with only a phone number. They will also be able to set their location in order to keep information relevant and services within reach. The system is designed to provide a 10 kilometer radius.

Potential categories for text messages include legal assistance, mental health, emergency alerts, transportation, daily forecast, employment opportunities, shelter bed availability, food/meals, and more. Users will be able to check the boxes of the topics they’d like information on and can unsubscribe at any time.

As the presentation went on, developers sent out a sample text, and those enrolled received a message reading: “Alert! Shelter and blankets available. No ID necessary. Call hypothermia hotline for more information at 555-555-5555.”

This service may also be used to keep individuals up to date on critical information, such as when a shelter has filled for the evening. However, this resource is largely dependent on service providers to send that type of follow-up information.

Future developments hope to offer a way for users to text back for additional information or assistance.

While an exciting development for enhanced communication between service providers and their clients, Miriam’s Kitchen and ICH are continuing to grapple with the concern that not everyone has a phone, nor does everyone qualify for SafeLink, a free government cellphone carrier.

At this time, the ICH is still working to identify funding to ensure that everyone who would benefit from this service has access to a phone.