Program Allows Reno Homeless To Phone Home

A new program initiated by a Reno police officer is giving homeless people a chance to reconnect with family in time for the holidays, and perhaps lead to a more stable existence than life on the streets.

Officer Patrick O'Bryan, commander of the department's Crisis Intervention Team, received help setting up the free cell phone call program from Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, local public relations executive Dali Wiederhoft and JC&C Wireless owner John
Coman, who donated 10 phones.

On Wednesday, the first day of the four-day program, about 50 homeless or people on the brink of homelessness called relatives and friends during the lunch hour at St. Vincent's Dining Room.

One man secured a job after calling an employer and three more said their family or friends were helping them get a bus ticket back home.

Jabari Moore, 26, a homeless Sacramento man, said he called a friend who promised to buy him a bus ticket that night.

"It's a great program and will probably help the homeless get some help," he said. "I'm glad I was able to contact my friends. Now, I got a ticket back home."

The Call Home for the Holidays program ends Saturday.

Organizers expect hundreds could take advantage of the program.

Coman donated 10 cellular phones, while AT&T is donating the minutes.

"It made sense to me," Coman said. "If just one person can get a bus ticket home out of this, that is a success. I've heard some of their conversations, and it's about the holidays and reconnecting with family."

O'Bryan said grass-roots efforts such as the call home program help the homeless and ease the strain on social services.

"We need to take every opportunity we can to help the homeless help themselves or help their families to do it," O'Bryan said.

"There's just not enough services out there. We really need to be creative."

The Reno Police Department's H.E.L.P. program also assists the homeless by providing free Greyhound bus tickets back to their families or contacting their families and asking their assistance to get them back home.

In fiscal year 2005-06, Reno spent $27,000 for the program, but officials estimated its efforts saved $500,000 in community service costs.