A Visit to San Francisco's Project Homeless Connect
by Paula Lomazzi

A group from the Sacramento Homeless Connect planning committee took a trip to San Francisco to tour the city's 21st Project Homeless Connect (PHC) on February 27th, 2008. What better way to learn than from the experts who first conceptualized and founded Project Homeless Connect three and a half years ago. These one-day events bring disconnected services together for homeless and nearly homeless people at a central location.
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Sacramento tourists

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Three and a half years ago, Alex Turk gathered some people together without a plan or a vision. They only had a goal to do something that helped homeless people. Alex got 250 city employees together to do outreach to see what were the needs of homeless people. Mayor Gavin Newsom has been involved since the beginning. They had their first event in a storefront offering only 4 services. 250 volunteers brought in more volunteers to subsequent events, 500 volunteers then became 1,000. Now they don't have to recruit volunteers--they just come in-mass from all over the bay area. At first the private sector was not interest in being involved. Later over 100 companies joined the effort. Much of their success comes by listening to the clients and being able to change to best meet their needs. San Francisco's PHCs are held quarterly and have helped 22,000 with 15,000 volunteers so far. Now there are 160 Project Homeless Connects around the U.S. and three worldwide.
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The Sacramento tourists started the day in the 'Green Room' at the Billy Graham Civic Auditorium for an introduction to the event. Then, before the event started there was a volunteer rally in the auditorium's balcony. All the volunteers wore PHC T-shirts of various colors depicting their roles for the day.
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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom welcomed the visitors and joined them on a tour of the event. A large room with many chairs and volunteers calling out numbers, held the intake operations where homeless people checked in and their needs were assessed (called Triage). After they checked in, they could go on their own to the various services or they could have a navigator help them find the services that they needed.
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There was a family area for child care and family related services. The main auditorium was a hubbub of activities. 2
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San Francisco Mayor Newsom at orientation
50 providers and 300 corporations collaborate to put on the event. The number one service offered that day was Housing and Shelter counseling and referrals. Partitioned areas provided privacy for various health related and other services. Cal Pacific Medical Center and Sutter Health provided volunteers and medical equipment. African American Breast Health provided mammograms and follow up care such as chemotherapy. HIV and other testing took place. Delta Dental provided dental services in a van outside. Sprint provided free phone calls and 1,000 prepaid cards. Google provided free voice mail for every homeless person with their own phone number. FedEx and Kinko's printed all the materials for the event. San Francisco Conservative of Music provided piano music. CPMC provided facials and clothing. There was wheelchair repair and wheelchairs to use for the day. Hearing tests were given. MediCal, food stamps and SSI orientation was offered. Substance abuse services were there and they even provided methadone that day. The Story Project was one of the more popular services, where their photos were taken and their stories were written down by a volunteer. Payee services were offered. Starbucks and Safeway sponsored a dining area. Santa comes when the events fall near Christmas time. Chiropractic, foot care, haircuts, free books and even more services were offered.
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Outside the main area there was a place for their carts. Outdoors, veterinary services were offered to pets and the animals could stay there while their people were inside. When the guests leave they would get a goody bag and more prizes if they filled out a feedback form.
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Before Project Homeless Connect, many San Francisco businesses pooled their money to spend $100,000 on banners trying to shame the city regarding homelessness. Now those very businesses are enthusiastically participating in the solutions. The event has not only benefited the homeless people of San Francisco, it has brought out the best in everyone else.