A Santa Cruz police officer contacts an apparently homeless man sheltered from the rain in a commercial doorway in downtown Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Police Department is launching a new partnership to connect homeless vets directly with the Veterans Resource Center Services.
SANTA CRUZ >> It was a one-stop shop for people in need at the sixth annual Project Homeless Connect in downtown Santa Cruz on Tuesday.
Held inside and around the Kaiser Permanente Arena on Front Street, the event was expected to draw more than a thousand people in need of health, social, mental, legal and housing services.
Things like getting a dental check up, figuring out what to do about an impounded car, obtaining a state identification card or eating a hot meal.
“When you’re homeless, the simplest things can be problematic,” said Rick Spidell, a 45-year-old homeless man.
Spidell heard about the event when went to get a replacement social security card on Monday. Clerks at the office told him of the event and said it was a more efficient way for him to go through the process.
“They definitely streamlined all the services to make sure it’s not so cumbersome,” he said.
The annual event featured 45 programs that could immediately help anyone without wading through the bureaucracy and process that typically comes along with making an appointment for services. Instead of making an appointment with the doctor or the dentist and waiting for a few weeks, participants waited for a few hours for those services. They received massages, blood pressure checks and eye exams.
“It’s a compassionate thing to do and there are folks in need,” said Peter Connery, vice president of Applied Survey Research and event organizers. “Our system of care in Santa Cruz County has not developed to a point where it’s a one stop access to the network. It’s not a coordinated intake system where individuals or families in need can go to one place and then go through a checklist of potential services they need.”
The 2014 event drew roughly 2,600 to 2,700 people, Connery said. He added this year’s event is expected to draw just under that number.
That issue is a driving factor for the annual event and spurred organizers to begin a second event in Watsonville. That event, scheduled for Nov. 6, will feature services tailored to Spanish speaking clientele and offer similar services.
More than helping the homeless, the event breaks down barriers. Many who walked through the doors for the services were paired with volunteers who offered a friendly smile and served as a guide for the event.
“One of the goals is not only to connect homeless folks or at-risk of homeless folk with service providers but also an opportunity for the community to be able to connect with the homeless,” Connery said. “Understand them and get a window into what life on the streets is.”
Cary Mendez, 46, is a homeless woman living in her car. At the event, she said she felt that respect from the volunteers and others at the event.
“They’re not looking at me and thinking, ‘Oh, you’re homeless. I’m better than you,’” she said.
Jorge Sanchez, program manager for drug treatment programs Si Se Puede and Santa Cruz Residential Recovery, said huge percentage of their clients are homeless. Workers in the programs brought clients down to the Kaiser Arena for services
“It’s important to educate them on all the resources Santa Cruz County has and how they can benefit from those resources,” Sanchez said.
WATSONVILLE >> Each instance of homelessness and extreme poverty has its own hardships, its own flavor, its own twist.
Those differences take on different hues even amid the distance from north to south Santa Cruz County, said the chairman of a local homeless services event.
Project Homeless Connect, a one-day event showcasing local health and human service options, will branch out to Watsonville on Nov. 5 at the Watsonville Veterans Memorial Building for the first time since its 2010 Santa Cruz debut.
The annual event is designed to help families and individuals accomplish, in one day and under one roof, what could normally take months, organizers said. Public and private individuals offer services ranging from legal advice and housing options to hygiene products and medical care.
Organizers have wanted to expand to Watsonville since the beginning, event coordinator and Applied Survey Research Vice President Peter Connery said, but they did not have sufficient corporate and business financial backing or large-scale private donor support as with the Santa Cruz event. This year, the group decided to move forward to cover the approximately $15,000 price tag with reserves and in-kind donations from committee members and service providers, he said.
"We are thrilled that Project Homeless Connect is coming to Watsonville. Our homeless community will have an easier access to services, especially those families experiencing homelessness," said Pajaro Valley Shelter Services Executive Director Kimberly Ferm, who also serves as a Project Homeless committee member.
Hosting an event at a South County location will reduce transportation issues, avoid competing with the busy springtime planning season of Santa Cruz's Project Homeless Connect, and allow for services to be tailored to South County's predominantly Latino community, Connery said.
In addition to making the county's most needy aware of local services, the Project Homeless Connect events serve as an education tool, Connery said.
"This event enables the public and the community to see a broader spectrum of persons in the county and get a better sense of what they're experiencing, what they have experienced and how they can potentially link them with services that can get them a more stable living situation and hopefully a more stable health situation," said Connery.
Such events also serve to highlight the high amount of local need versus the relatively low service availability, Connery said. A 2013 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey by Applied Survey Research counted 3,536 homeless individuals, of which 2,895 were unsheltered. Some homeless people have obtained some form of temporary lodging, from a garage or storage facility to a shelter or friend's couch.
"It's been a tough thing to get off the ground down here. There has been very little fiscal support for it," Connery said of adding the Watsonville event. "We want to put a more human face on homelessness in South County — all over the county, but in South County as well — and get people to understand the diversity and complexities of it. We want to get people to understand that to be homeless doesn't mean to be a failure."
The Santa Cruz Project Homeless Connect drew 750 attendees to the Kaiser Permanente Arena in May. Connery said the Watsonville Veterans Memorial Building, donated for the event, is smaller though declined to guess how many attendees are expected next month.
For more information, visit phc-santacruz.org or call 831-406-1742.
Project Homeless Connect Watsonville
What: A one-day event of health and human services for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 5.
Where: Watsonville Veterans Memorial Building, 215 E. Beach St.
Information: phc-santacruz.org or 831-406-1742.
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."
SANTA CRUZ — Services for homeless people in Santa Cruz County came together under one common roof Tuesday at the third annual Project Homeless Connect. More than 40 non-profit groups set up tables, booths, workstations and impromptu exam rooms for the six-hour event that is designed to introduce services that are available to aid people dealing with homelessness.
Hair cutting, dental and medical work, bike repair, eye exams, acupuncture, DMV Identification cards, counseling, and veterans outreach is a mere sampling of the wealth of options set before the 700-plus homeless people that showed up. Veterinarians were also on hand to provide vaccination and exams for pets.
“Last year we had more than 750 people show up and we made a lot of valuable connections, said Deanna Zachary of Applied Survey Research. “The event has expanded tremendously, especially in the area of vision, medical and dental care. We expect to have hundreds of pairs of glasses to hand out and the ability to do vision tests and dental care that includes pulling a tooth.”
Project Homeless Connect is the brainchild of then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom 10 years ago. The project has flourished and has now spread out to 220 cities in three countries.
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