In about two hours, Paul Husser got a state ID card, signed up for food stamps and saw a registered nurse for a check up, all before sitting down for a hand-delivered plate of spaghetti, bread and salad. For a young homeless man struggling to make ends meet, Project Homeless Connect—the all day service bonanza at the Civic Auditorium on Tuesday—is an easy way to tick off the lingering items on his basic needs to-do-list.
For the 275 volunteers offering their time and expertise to cut hair, clean teeth, exchange needles and sign people up for local, state and federal aid programs, it’s a way to serve the most needy people in the community with the most essential necessities—and a few niceties as well. “I know almost everyone in here, man, and they’re taking care of them all,” says Husser, fresh from the ID card line and surrounded by the bustle of men, women and children shuffling from booth to booth on the auditorium’s gymnasium floor. “This has really been a great day. Anyone who’s homeless should make sure they come by.”
Project Homeless Connect is a San Francisco-based charity that collaborates with dozens of health, hygiene, housing, food and government service providers through various projects aimed at bettering the lives of people living on the streets. The event at the Civic is the first of its kind in Santa Cruz, and is loosely associated with the US Census as homeless individuals are encouraged to register and be counted. Within the first three hours, more than 400 people have come in looking for aid, according to Kymberly Lacrosse, a community organizer with United Way of Santa Cruz County and one of the lead planners for the event. “Each individual has their own story and this lets us serve each person and help give them the personal care that each one needs,” says Lacrosse. “This is not just about the homeless community, it's about the entire community.”
Lacrosse says that the most popular services demanded are medical and dental check-ups along with identification cards. At the medical triage set up on the stage of the auditorium, Matt Nathanson, a registered nurse, talks to James Kampsnider, a bearded Air Force veteran, who says he has a painful abscess in his mouth. Though the dentists are over booked for the day, Nathanson encourages him to make an appointment as most of the medical professionals have agreed to give free services for the rest of the week. Kampsnider says he’ll take him up on the offer. “My biggest objective for the day was to get [Veterans Affairs] benefits and I did that,” says Kampsinder. “Hopefully I’ll get my mouth looked at in the next couple days too.” Lacrosse says that while the event is focused on providing services and not on statistical note taking, that it provides a valuable snapshot of the local homeless population and of the challenges that they are facing. She hopes that by having so many disadvantaged residents in one place at one time, that the they will not only get the aid they need, but that the social service providers attending will also have a better understanding of the individuals they are serving. “We just want people to walk away from here a little better than when they came in,” says Lacrosse.