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Project Connect

Worldchanging San Francisco local, Holly Pearson

Project Homeless Connect, created in 2004 under the leadership of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, has developed into one of the nation’s most innovative and effective initiatives for dealing with homelessness. It’s a bi-monthly event that seeks to provide a wide range of resources and services for the city’s homeless under a single roof. The mission of Project Homeless Connect is “to support and create lasting solutions for homeless San Franciscans.?

Homelessness is among the most challenging and intractable of social problems facing American cities, and San Francisco is no exception. Recognizing the need for a new approach to the goal of helping the homeless get off the streets and into permanent housing, Mayor Newsom and his administration developed the concept of offering a “one-stop shopping? kind of event where homeless individuals could come and get several types of assistance at once. The first step was to go out and ask the city’s homeless what specific kinds of help they needed most. Now entering its third year, PHC is organized through the cooperation of several City agencies and is made possible by partnerships with non-profit organizations and social service providers, businesses, and individual community volunteers.

The initiative takes place at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco's Civic Center district. Stations are set up for clients to access services such as information and referrals for emergency shelter and low-income housing; medical, dental, and vision care; and drug treatment and mental health services. Clients can sit down to eat a free lunch, make free long-distance phone calls, and take away a bag full of free groceries. They can also apply for General Assistance benefits, obtain legal assistance, and get a California state ID.

Every time the event is held, nearly 1,500 volunteers contribute their time to provide services for approximately 2,000-2,500 homeless clients. At the most recent PHC in October 2006, 235 clients received medical care, 102 were connected to methadone treatment programs, and 112 individuals who had slept on the streets the previous night were placed in shelters or stabilization rooms.

A few stats put the scope of the need that PHC addresses into perspective: our city faces housing costs that are among the highest in the nation and there are waiting lists of nearly 30,000 individuals for both public housing and Section 8 rent assistance in San Francisco. The City’s most recent official homeless count found 6,248 homeless individuals on a single night (source: Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco). This is considered a minimum number because it doesn’t account for people staying with friends or relatives or other “invisible? homeless populations.

Project Homeless Connect’s success lies partly in its recognition of the fact that because homelessness is a complex issue that is usually the result of several contributing factors rather than a single cause, the solutions also need to be multi-faceted. PHC aims to draw connections between the different types of support and services that are needed to help homeless individuals transition from the street to stable housing, and to improve access to these services for those who need them. The philosophy underlying PHC’s approach is that “when people are approached in a respectful and kind manner, and with available resources, they are eager to accept help towards self-sufficiency.? (Project Homeless Connect website).

To date, 61 other cities across the U.S. have launched similar initiatives modeled after San Francisco’s Project Homeless Connect, including Denver, Miami, Portland, San Diego, Minneapolis, and St. Louis. December 4-8 has been declared National Project Homeless Connect Week.

The next Project Homeless Connect in San Francisco takes place on Thursday, December 7th. Click here to read more and to sign up to volunteer.


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