Connect brings day of vital services to the homeless

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comOctober 20, 2012 

Robert Bernard Jr. has been homeless for a month. That's a long time when you've run out of daily medical supplies.

"Right now I'm wearing a T-shirt to cover a hole in my stomach," the Los Banos resident said. "That's a serious health issue."

Bernard, 46, who wears a urostomy bag, said he was also looking for housing. He said he's been turned away from homeless shelters because of his condition.

Bernard Jr. was among those served by Bethel Community Church's first Project Homeless Connect on the Westside of Merced County. The previous two were in Merced. Homeless Connect brings nonprofits and government services together to help the homeless. It's part of the county's Continuum of Care 10-year Plan to End Homelessness.

Bernard Jr. received a harcut at the event.

Golden Valley Health Centers' Juan Villa, a homeless program care coordinator based in Modesto, said without a shelter in Los Banos it is difficult to cater to those in need. Primary health care, substance-abuse programs, dental services and mental health services are all part of the offerings.

"(Without a shelter) there's not a direct source for us to go to, to provide those services," Villa said. "Shelters identify those needs."

Golden Valley also provided blood-pressure readings, as well as hygiene products at the Oct. 12 Connect.

Alicia Ochoa-Jones, Merced County Association of Governments Continuum of Care coordinator, said seven of the 45 people who came for services were veterans. Fifteen applied for county housing, 15 received flu vaccines, 12 attained IDs and a slew of others learned about Workforce Investment, Alcoholics Anonymous and Merced County Mental Health, and other services.

"The point is to link them in a one-stop setting in one day," Ochoa-Jones said.

Project Homeless Connect is a nationwide initiative.

A portion of the $15,000 Supervisor Jerry O'Banion gave to the Continuum of Care in August paid for IDs, birth certificates and volunteer T-shirts, on top of covering the Los Banos and Dos Palos segment of program funding for the year.

O'Banion stepped in with funding after Los Banos City Council pulled its $12,000 in Continuum funding in June. In two years, Continuum brought $281,000 to Los Banos, and $2.5 million countywide. Los Banos' portion of the Housing and Urban Development funding is used on Pacheco Place, an eight-unit affordable housing project.

Renee Mounce, operations manager for Merced's D Street shelter, said her 66-bed facility is considered temporary, transitional housing. She served 13,000 meals last year.

In January, volunteers counted 190 homeless people on the streets of Merced. "It's accurate for that day only," Mounce said, adding she services about 500 unduplicated people per year.

Steve Hammond, pastor for Bethel, said anyone looking for a shelter on the Westside must be bused to Merced's D Street shelter. The Los Banos homeless count identified 75 in January.

"Very few are willing to go to Merced," Hammond said. "And, when they are, sometimes we have a hard time getting them there."

Hammond ran the Los Banos Rescue Mission from 2008 to 2010, but closed the doors after the state pulled the funding. The church now provides a weekly meal to 200, and since January has passed out a monthly food box to 963.

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