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Perspective Gained at Project Homeless Connect 2016

A big part of our work is advocacy. Educating our community to strengthen our effort towards ending homeless is a key piece. There are many ways we work alongside our partners towards educating the community by sharing our experiences and resources. Aside from providing tours, sharing articles, hosting events, there is also the biggest and most life changing experience of them all: spending a day with someone suffering from homelessness.

One particular experience that stood out for me was volunteering at Project Homeless Connect. If you’ve never been, the project is designed so that individuals experiencing homelessness can access resources otherwise not readily available for them, like getting a state ID, a medical check-up, and a haircut. Folks line up and are paired with a volunteer who helps them with an initial assessment and to navigate all the different services offered. So many people came this year, it was truly an impressive operation.

Joe* is a homeless veteran who crashes with friends every once in a while and was hoping to get his state ID to find a job. He also expresses interest in getting a haircut and seeing if he could acquire a cell phone. We planned out the day and added a stop by the VA services stands.

The room at the convention center was divided in to eight distinct sections with stands and tables. Intake, for those who needed shelter or referrals; health and wellness, where they could get doctor check-ups or dental fixes; VA services; employment section and other services (like getting a phone); a social services sections, where you could get your state ID, social security benefits, Medicare/Medicaid; Haircuts; the dining area and the clothing closet.

Homeward did a great job pulling it all together, and aside from a few vendors not showing up- like the cellphone provider, which my friend needed- it was a huge undertaking and, in my mind, a success! However, I will say that navigating through so many places in order to get the things Joe* needed, felt a bit like Kafka’s tower… It can be a bit overwhelming. Joe* felt sorry I was “wasting” my day with him. But, I explained that I wanted to help him and to get to know him. During our conversations he described why he didn’t want to go to a shelter-   he sensed that some people need it more than he does.

At the end, when I said goodbye, Joe* had gotten his state ID slip, got a haircut, ate a warm meal, got a few new pairs of socks, and called it a day after what seemed like an eternity of running errands… but he was so grateful.

Leaving the event I reflected on how, if it wasn’t for projects like this one, it would be so hard for an individual experiencing homelessness to navigate services that are not a few steps away from each other. Many of these things cost time and money; I think, more events like this and more support is what we need to encourage and help these individuals not only receive but to sustain housing.

This season I see incredible support in the community for those who need it the most. I believe we can keep the momentum going! As I think about the holidays and my friend Joe*, I hope he is doing okay and that he has found someone to spend this time of year with. I told him he could always ask for help and find support through HomeAgain whenever he needed to, and I hope he at least remembers that from our day together. I know that I will remember him.

*The name of the individual served has been altered to protect his right to privacy.