Taking It to the Streets

In autumn 2004, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom established a bimonthly event called Project Homeless Connect. Every six weeks hundreds of volunteers gather at a central location to provide homeless people with immediate care and further referrals to local agencies. Since its inception, the project has helped over 8,000 clients.

Among the services a client can receive are eye exams and glasses made on-site; legal assistance; medical care and prescribed medications; foot care; veterinary services on-site (many homeless people have animals as companions); TB testing; counseling (mental health, domestic violence, & employment); childcare slots; SSI advocacy; wheelchair maintenance; assistance getting a state I.D.; HIV rapid testing; free lunch; shelter referrals, and much more. All services and products (.e.g, glasses, medication) are provided free of charge to clients.

Some people criticize this project, saying that having this event every six weeks leaves homeless people stranded in the meantime. I attended a panel discussion featuring people heavily involved in the project, though, and given the massive coordination efforts involved, I don’t think it could realistically happen more often. Some assistance is better than none, especially if clients are given information on how to receive follow-up care with agencies. Because really, if one is homeless and needs glasses, which is better: to offer the opporunity for on-the-spot assistance, or to refer a client to go find an optometrist, go to the office for an exam, select glasses, wait, and come back later to retrieve them? Being homeless is a chaotic experience. If a need can be met more quickly, it may support the client in getting off the streets by removing a barrier.

Over 188 non-profits and 125 private corporations have become involved; a number of companies excuse their employees from regular duties and have them work at the event. At the last project there were 1200 volunteers. However, participation is not guaranteed to be consistent, and the project can always use more people. Volunteer opportunities include:

  • Triage: greet clients, explain the procedure, gather information.
  • Client support services: assist client with getting from one service area to another; act as guides, giving directions or escorting clients to areas where they can get what they need (food, to appointments, etc.)
  • Street outreach: go out in groups of three, engage with homeless clients, and encourage them in a supportive way to come to the “linkage station.”
  • Discharge: review paperwork with clients to ensure they obtained what they came for; listen to what clients still need and record their feedback concerning the care they received.
  • Data entry: help input data on clients.

  • Pre-event volunteers: volunteer outreach, phone work, packaging hygiene kits or data entry during the week prior to the event.

The location of the event is the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (99 Grove Street at Polk). Future dates in 2006 are: February 16, April 13, June 8, August 10, October 5, and December 7. To learn more and become a volunteer, visit Project Homeless Connect. I’ll be working at the project on February 16!

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One Comment on “Taking It to the Streets”

  1. Vegan Momma Says:

    I agree some help is better than none. Congratulations for helping out with the project!