Never having been to San Francisco, I don’t know what the calibre of the city’s homeless population is like vis a vis the Toronto homeless. It’s possible that many of the San Francisco down-and-out are merely in between public relations jobs, or are biding their time waiting for another senior VP spot to open up at a dot-com — the kind of thing you might need, say, a free voicemail account for. Google says it is providing all of the homeless with their own lifetime voice number via GrandCentral, the Web telecom venture it acquired last year.
I guess homeless people in San Francisco don’t need blankets the way homeless people in Toronto do, and they probably don’t need food either. Presumably there’s lots of second-hand golf pants and mesh shirts and whatnot lying around for them to wear as well, so they’ve got that covered. What they really need is voicemail. And maybe an assistant to answer the voicemail, but I can tell that Google is starting small. Maybe they’ll build up to the assistant thing. And maybe the next move will be free paper-shredding for those important documents.
I just know that someone is going to tell me that voicemail will help homeless people get social assistance, and maybe get an apartment or at least a room, and that lots of government departments require you to have a phone number, etc. etc. And maybe all of that is true. But social agencies have been handling that for years. Will free voicemail help? Maybe, maybe not. It sure helps Google look good — and yet, it seems almost absurd on the face of it. Why not just invite them to the Googleplex for a day of free gourmet lunches and foosball games in the cafeteria?