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Homeless Get a Chance to Call Relatives for Free

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Henry Hawkins didn’t want his family in Houston to know that he’s been struggling with unemployment and homelessness for about two years, so it has been more than a year since he called home.

Sunday, however, Hawkins took advantage of a Christmas gift offered by the Express Tel long distance phone company that allowed him to talk to his sister and niece free of charge.

“It was an emotional type feeling,” said Hawkins, 39, smiling and lying on a bench outside after the call. “I was happy to talk to them, and they were happy to hear from me. (It was) a very nice Christmas gift for me.”

Hawkins was one of 150 Orange County homeless people who made free calls to their families all over the United States on Sunday. The calls were provided by Express Tel long distance company, which set up four phone lines in the Orange County Rescue Mission’s chapel from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Greg Lamont, director of sales for the phone company, said 150 people made about 300 calls. “Some people came in sheepish and left happy,” said Lamont, one of seven Express Tel volunteers who worked Sunday to help organize the event.

Lamont said the company did not anticipate that people would want to call Mexico and was not equipped to accommodate those calls.

Tom Normandin, the mission’s men’s director, said the facility on Walnut Street has a large Latino population. He added that if Express Tel had provided free calls to Mexico, “you would have had a line down the block.”

Normandin expressed hope that the free calls would “get more people in touch with their families and maybe in the future cause them to be able to get back with them.”

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On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Express Tel will provide free calls to the homeless at the Allen House, operated by the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, at 2249 S. Harvard Blvd. in Los Angeles.


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