Project Homeless Connect comes to Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ -- A medical check-up, dental screenings and a warm meal -- the United Way of Santa Cruz County and a team of county agencies plan to provide all of these essentials to homeless people next month for the city's first Project Homeless Connect event.

Project Homeless Connect is a one-day event that provides housing, support and quality of life resources to the homeless. The project started in San Francisco in 2004, when more than 2,000 homeless people showed up. Since then, the event have been held in more than 220 communities across the nation.

Santa Cruz County anticipates 300-1,000 people to come to the event. In the meantime, coordinators work to fill the civic auditorium, which will house the event, with agencies and donations to help struggling men, women and families get back on their feet. Participants can get a new identification card, food stamps or a hair cut all in one place.

"It's a one-stop shop," said Kymberly Lacrosse, United Way community organizer. "This project requires a large amount of community support and will require the work of more than 250 local volunteers."

Corporations, nonprofits and government agencies provide Project Homeless Connect attendees with services such as eyeglasses, family support, food, HIV testing, housing, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, legal advice, employment counseling, veterans' services and more.

"The motivation is to reach out to people who don't know about these resources," United Way volunteer coordinator Sam Green said. "It's an opportunity for all of the community to get connected with the individuals people disconnect themselves from."

It wasn't long ago that Blanca Gonzalez was homeless.

"We're all trying to survive," said Gonzalez, who attended an informational meeting Thursday for people interested in volunteering for the project. "It's not an uncommon thing. I've been there, done that. What I want to do is help someone else move up. This town has needed something like this forever."

Now living in a home in San Jose, the Watsonville native decided she wanted to help others move forward.

"I'm hoping to help my niece who is in a difficult situation right now," Gonzalez said. "If I can help her, she can help someone else. Once we get started, it will never stop. It's a wonderful thing."

To sign up to volunteer, or to donate visit