Project Homeless Connect reaches out to 1,000 local folks

SANTA CRUZ -- Life's little tasks can seem insurmountable when homeless.

Fixing a bicycle, making sure the dog has enough food, accessing voicemail, seeing a doctor and getting a haircut aren't as simple for folks who don't have a car or roof over their head.

The United Way of Santa Cruz County tried to lend a hand to the area's homeless Tuesday by launching Project Homeless Connect -- a one-day, one-stop shop for services that included acupuncture, banking, feet cleaning, HIV testing, animal care, mail, clothing, vision and dental care and government benefits.

The Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium was packed throughout the day as more than 1,000 homeless sought the services offered.

The local chapter of the Salvation Army handed out phone cards and vouchers for its clothing shops. The Santa Cruz SPCA provided free leashes, collars and microchips. Second Harvest Food Bank helped folks sign up for food stamps. Santa Cruz Community Credit Union offered free checking accounts. Twin Lakes College provided 10-minute massages. Santa Cruz Revival set up tubs outside to wash people's feet.

About 500 volunteers helped make the area's first Project Homeless Connect a success, said Kymberly Lacrosse, a community organizer with United Way.

"Today is a revolution really," Lacrosse said. "This is a whole new approach to homeless services by bringing everything in one place. The greatest challenges for the homeless are transportation and access."

A friend gave Vicky Wolcott a ride to the Church Street auditorium so she could go through the process of getting a copy of her birth certificate and a state identification card. Wolcott, 42, said she's been homeless for about a year. 

"This is really cool. I've never seen anything like this before," she said. "I got appointments to do everything I need to do. Now I can focus on looking for a job as a caretaker."

The idea to bring homeless services under one roof for the day was copied from a similar program that started in San Francisco in 2004 and has since been emulated in dozens of cities across the country and Canada.

Ed DeMasi of San Francisco's Project Homeless Connect helped Santa Cruz organizers prepare for Tuesday's event.

"This is all about helping the client," DeMasi said. "The model makes it easy to just show up.