On June 19, Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul joined for the second time with police, private businesses, service providers and volunteers to provide a “one-stop shop” for St. Paul’s homeless population at Project Homeless Connect, held at the St. Paul Armory.
Organizers focused on providing a comprehensive list of services to a typically under-served and less-mobile population.
“We provide everything from haircuts to health care, dental, doctors. We also do housing, employment, youth services,” explains Project Homeless Connect Chair and St. Paul Police Officer Dean Koehnen.
“It’s difficult for a lot of these people to get transportation so we put them all together in one room where they can walk around and get the services they need.”
Over 200 volunteers assisted an estimated 1,000 attendees navigate the services available, from getting an eye exam to picking up free backpacks filled with food and toiletries.
Heather, a 26-year old woman living in transitional housing, appreciated having so many services in one place.
“It’s so hard to call around to find out who does what, how you can get help, and when you don’t have a phone or are homeless or different things like that you get discouraged. It’s good to have this all at once.”
For others, the event fell short of addressing what they considered to be the real causes of homelessness.
P. Jones-El, an attendee currently between jobs, says that what homeless people really need is support and a pathway to independence.
“You have somebody who hasn’t really had any structure in his life, what do you do? You tell him about help, give him a handout, that’s one thing. But that’s not making him independent. One of the best ways to help people is having a support system.”
Fred, a volunteer living at the Dorothy Day Center, believes that without long-term solutions to problems like racism and job disparity, events like Project Homeless Connect are just “temporary fixes.
“Most minorities here probably never graduated high school or grade school. The market is very segregated. There are not enough jobs.”
Nonetheless, Becky Hicks, Homeless Program Coordinator for St. Paul Public Schools, believes that Project Homeless Connect, part of a nationwide initiative to end homelessness, has a larger impact that extends beyond the day’s events.
“We raise awareness that homeless people are more like us than different,” she says.
“That’s our other goal.”
Erin Wisness is a freelance writer living in the Twin Cities.