Project Homeless Connect brings services to needy

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comSeptember 29, 2012 

Aldus Jackson of Los Banos has spent the last two weeks meeting the homeless where they live -- streets, parks, alleyways.

"I'm going to get out there in the streets and spread the word," the Vietnam War veteran said, adding word-of-mouth from a friendly face is the only way to inform the homeless.

"I do it, because I've been there," he said.

Bethel Community Church, 415 I St., will be home to a mixture of nonprofits and government service agencies, including the church, Merced County Adult and Aging Services, Merced County Association of Governments and others, for a planned Project Homeless Connect meeting in Los Banos at 10 a.m. Oct. 12.

Connect has been offered twice in Merced, which has 190 homeless to Los Banos' 75. October's will be the first on the Westside. It's a segment of the Continuum of Care 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Connect is a way to educate the homeless on the services available to them, services integral to getting a job -- like acquiring an ID or birth certificate -- and housing. It also offers quality of life services, like dentists, doctors, haircuts, showers and clothing.

The Connect held in June in Merced counted the services accessed that day -- 32 IDs, 45 showers, 15 referrals for vouchers for homeless veterans and 87 low-income housing applications, among others.

Lori Flanders, MCAG public information officer, said the some of the things, like the 88 mailing addresses provided by Catholic Charities, help with applying for employment.

"The ultimate job is to get people off the street," Flanders said.

Sean Osborn, a supervisor for Merced County Human Services, said homeless people rarely seek services on their own. Gathering the homeless in a familiar place is the best way to gain their trust, he said.

"They virtually all know each other," he said. "It's much easier to get them together."

Steve Hammond, pastor of Bethel Community, said he expects a turnout of 20 to 30 people next month in Los Banos. He said the church started publicizing Connect among the homeless community on Fridays, while handing out its weekly meal.

"I think it's going to be a great opportunity for the homeless of Los Banos," Hammond said about Connect, "because the Westside is so service poor."

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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