She was twenty something and very pretty, well groomed, and soft-spoken. I don’t remember her name, but I’ll never forget her. She worked part-time at a Caribou coffeeshop. While she had a place to stay, she had no place she could call home. She was living with the mother of her ex-boyfriend and she knew that would not work much longer.
I met her last summer on the day I volunteered at the East Metro Project Homeless Connect (PHC). She was one of the guests who came to the River Centre in Saint Paul that day looking for help in finding a place to live. Poor choices that she made in the past resulted in her having an unlawful detainer on her record.
Not only did she find help with some affordable and possible housing options, she also received free legal advice to help untangle the unlawful detainer, which, it turns out, she should never have received in the first place. She was seen by a dentist, and received some medical tests. She was able to connect with all of these services in one place in one day. For people like this young woman, who are experiencing homelessness, the difficulties they encounter in finding and accessing the services they need serves as a barrier to stabilizing their lives.
This year’s East Metro Project Homeless Connect will take place on Monday, June 29, 2009 at the River Centre, 175 W. Kellogg Blvd. Mark Erpelding is the Impacting Homelessness Coordinator for Hands On Twin Cities, and he is serving as the volunteer committee chair for the East Metro PHC.
Each year, there is a slight increase in the number of individuals served at the all-day event, and Erpelding expects that 1300 guests will come this year, up from just over 1200 last year.
Services provided include legal assistance, social services, job services, housing information and referrals, eye exams, medical screening, dental care, hair cuts, transportation, education (including school registration), and guests can even apply for a state ID card, which is important in applying for a job or for a place to live.
“What makes this project unique,” said Erpelding, “is the strong collaboration of community non-profits, local government and community citizens.”
While there are a number of corporate volunteers signed on to help that day, Erpelding said additional individual volunteers are needed. He said, “ What we need most is volunteers to do intake interviews and guide guests to the services they need.” Training is provided for first time volunteers.
Erpelding said that volunteering at the event, “ allows one-to-one connection… to get in tune with people who are experiencing homelessness day to day.”
Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, is a free lance writer for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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