[Sorry, got in too late after Christmas shopping to do this last night.]
What happens when you get several hundred homeless people in the same room with over thirty information and assistance stations manned representatives from local resources such as addiction recovery services, the Social Security office, transitional housing organizations, medical professionals and mobility specialists? You get Project Homeless Connect, part of Asheville’s 10-Year Plan to end homelessness in Buncombe County.
Although at first glance, the event seemed like nothing more than a resource fair, in actuality it was far more useful and far more effective than simply a church gymnasium filled with info packs and business cards. In addition to simply providing information about housing, legal advice and so forth, the folks manning the tables were actually registering the homeless for housing programs, processing requests for new Social Security cards or photo IDs, providing wheelchair repairs, offering real-time legal and health services and so forth.
My job, and the job of all of us Americorps, was to act as volunteer ambassadors to the homeless clients – helping them fill out forms, orienting them to the event, helping them through the process if they needed help and otherwise making it easy for them to get the help they needed in a timely and comfortable manner. There was plenty of food on offer, as well as free haircuts, massages and even shower facilities. On their way out, they received warm winter clothes, phone cards and other such necessities for surviving on the streets.
In all, hundreds of homeless went through the event. Hopefully they all got what they needed. In any event, it was a major success on all fronts. People were helped, I and my colleagues were blessed with the chance to help others and Asheville became a model for other communities trying to deal with their own homeless issues. With any luck, our success will be contagious.
Update: Connecting at Project Homeless Connect – the personal reaction to this public event.