Project Homeless Connect helps more than 700 in Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ -- When Sylbia Blan first attended Project Homeless Connect four years ago, she was desperate for a job and medical services.

Now that she's working for the Mental Health Client Action Network, the Santa Cruz resident is looking to give back to others in need.

"It's so exciting," said Blan, who first connected with the local organization at Project Homeless Connect. "I really love what happens here. Lives change."

The Mental Health Client Action Network was one of more than 40 groups offering services at the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect on Tuesday at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. More than 700 people attended the event for services including medical care, legal help, food and haircuts.

Organizations including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Walnut Avenue Women's Health Center, Alcoholics Anonymous and Salvation Army set up booths inside and around the downtown venue in hopes of offering help for the homeless in one central area.

"I love the concept of bringing the services together under one roof," said volunteer Ken Shaw. "A lot of people don't have the necessary transportation, and it can be a struggle for them."

Nearly 900 people attended last year's event, said Kymberly Lacrosse, community organizer for United Way of Santa Cruz County, one of the organizers of the event. While she's looking into the reason fewer

people attended this year, Lacrosse said the event was still a success.

"It was a great turnout for clients," Lacrosse said. "It was 700 people that didn't get served yesterday or the day before. Even if it was 100, it'd be amazing." 

While the event provides basic needs such as meals, Project Homeless Connect's reach can go beyond the single day, said Marcus Kelly-Cobos, a Santa Cruz resident who has attended in years past.

"I came back to what saved my life," Kelly-Cobos said. "I really just came at first for the free stuff, and I kept walking by behavioral resources thinking, 'I don't need that.'"

After connecting with Janus of Santa Cruz, a local drug and alcohol treatment facility, at last year's event, though, Kelly-Cobos entered his 21st rehabilitation program and has now been sober for more than a year. He works at Janus and is in school to become a registered addictions specialist.

"I'm just in the community," Kelly-Cobos said. "It helps me stay busy, and seeing what I was like when I was out there using drugs and alcohol kind of helps me stay on the straight and narrow."

The event hopefully also gave the homeless community a chance to connect with the rest of Santa Cruz, Lacrosse said. City councilmen Don Lane and Micah Posner interacted with those in attendance, listening to stories of living in cars and searching for jobs, Lacrosse said.

"You can just see there's a humming that's happening," Lacrosse said. "Everyone's working together."