About 800 San Franciscans lined up this morning outside the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to access services at the fifth anniversary of Project Homeless Connect’s one-stop resource center.
The project connects homeless and poor residents with services ranging from HIV testing to legal support. Gathering scores of agencies, non-profits and other volunteers in one place for “one-stop shopping events” lets attendees access services in one day that might otherwise take months, according to organizers.
The program has served more than 29,000 people since its inception in 2004, according to Project Homeless Connect director Judith Klain.
Speaking to volunteers before the door opened at auditorium this morning, Klain said that nearly 800 people were lined up before the event began, a strong turnout unsurprising in a recession economy. Organizers commented that while certain economic markers may indicate the recession is abating, the line of people stretching around the block to get into the building suggests another reality.
Today’s anniversary is bittersweet, Klain said. “We hope and we pray we may one day not have to do this.”
Five years ago this month, about 300 volunteers surveyed a 60-block area around the Tenderloin District, asking San Francisco’s homeless population about their needs.
Since then, Klain said Project Homeless Connect has handed out 7,000 pairs of eyeglasses, helped 5,300 people access ongoing medical care and worked with almost 3,000 people to find housing or shelter.
Attendees can get medical screenings, wheelchair repairs, legal assistance, massages or acupuncture. City agencies provided information on nutrition, senior services, even how to file citizens complaints against police officers.
Volunteers help escort visitors around the auditorium to access particular services and agencies. The booths offering haircuts, dental care and sign-ups for housing and shelter were especially popular.
One man in a black knit cap made a beeline for the dental services booth, describing his discomfort with elaborate hand gestures.
Another man who was among the first in line to enter the auditorium told his volunteer companion that he wanted to see about housing placement before anything else.
Project Homeless Connect also operates a story project, where clients can have a professional photo taken and record their account of struggles and surviving homelessness.
Treasure Mapanda waited at the story project booth with his infant daughter, while his wife signed up to take a family picture.
“We’re going to go to every single booth,” Mapanda said. However, he said his first stop after the photo would be the dentist booth, to address a cracked tooth and another one causing him some pain. “I’ve been waiting for three months,” he said.
Mayor Gavin Newsom dropped in moments before the event began to thank volunteers for giving San Francisco’s homeless population “a human face” and assisting them with dignity.
According to Newsom’s office, Project Homeless Connect has moved more than 10,000 homeless adults have left the city’s streets or shelters for permanent housing.
Former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto, who also chairs a city council on homeless issues, recalled the days before Project Homeless Connect, when large numbers of chronically homeless lived and slept on the street.
“We had people all over the place,” she said. “You don’t see that anymore.”
The organization has served as a model for similar programs in cities like Minneapolis, Anchorage and San Diego.