I spent Thursday volunteering with Project Homeless Connect. It's a citywide initiative to connect homeless clients with the resources that they need. The event takes place every other month at the Civic Center.
Basically, clients enter the building at 10am. They go through triage where someone does an immediate needs evaluation on a worksheet and then circles the most immediate need. An escort then takes the client to the area circled first. They can go to clothing, food, shelter, medical care (including podiatry, mental health and substance abuse), dental, vision and benefits. Fedex was there offering supplies to make valentines which the clients could have sent anywhere in the U.S. for free. Nextel was offering a similar free service where clients could call anywhere in the U.S. for free and Nextel would help them locate phone numbers. There were also free paperbook books being given away, free massages and foot spa treatments and free toiletry kits. It's a pretty big event. I worked as an escort to get people from one area to another and answer questions.
Some of the things you see just break your heart. I saw several guys there about my age or younger. They look a lot like the snowboarders I used to see in Colorado except their North Face jackets and sleeping bags and dreadlocks are very worn and dirty. You look at them and wonder how they ended up on the streets. And most of the people were so nice and grateful for the help. They had such need. And it made me think about how we can give these people back their dignity. Is it meaningful to start with being polite and looking them in the eye and referring to them as "sir" and "ma'am?" How about the free massages where they could receive caring and gentle touch? It goes beyond just meeting their basic needs. They get so used to people looking past them and ignoring them.
This was the ninth event they have had and I hope to participate in the next one as well. With this initiative and others, the homeless population has gone from about 1200 to 600 in the last couple of years. Wouldn't it be great to get it down to zero?