Project Homeless Connect: Why we need more one-stop shops like this

Across the U.S., there’s no shortage of people, projects, and organizations working to address homelessness. On Idealist alone, there are over 13,000 opportunities. In the spirit of spreading good ideas, today we’re featuring a snippet about Project Homeless Connect, an all-day fair which makes resources and services more accessible to the people who could use them most. To date, it’s been replicated in 264 cities from Baltimore to Denver to Portland.

This post by Scott Keyes originally appeared on ThinkProgress, a political news and analysis website.


Trimming hair at a Project Homeless Connect event in Chapel Hill, NC
(photo courtesy townofchapelhill on Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Say you’re homeless and you set out on Monday to run a single errand: get a discount train pass. You fork over $2 for the half-hour bus ride to get down to the San Francisco Mutual Transportation Agency office in order to apply. Another 30 minutes waiting in the lobby.

When your name is finally called, the meeting ends after two minutes because you don’t have an ID. So you hop back on the bus, out another $2, and head over to the County Clerk’s office. But because you didn’t bring a proof of residency document from a local shelter, you can’t get an ID. By this time it’s nearly 4:00 pm, the office will be closing soon, and you’re out enough money for a sandwich.

Indeed, when you don’t have a lot to spend, the path of any errand can be fraught with pitfalls.

Cris-crossing town on a bus is neither cheap nor quick. Agencies can have weird hours, and many homeless people don’t have access to the Internet to see what time they close.

What if you forgot a document? Some places won’t take you without an appointment, while others need you to come back for a follow-up next week. And even after you’ve secured an ID, a bus pass, and other bare minimums, your bag may get stolen one night, and you’ll have to repeat the entire process.

These are the mishaps that can make it extraordinarily difficult for a homeless person to satisfy a single need. And there are so many others besides: a shelter bed, a spot on the low-income housing waiting list, health care, a haircut, food. All this time spent trying to satisfy your basic needs is time not spent at work or in school.

But an innovative program from San Francisco is changing the game with a simple idea: bring all the service providers under one roof for an all-day fair.

Project Homeless Connect (PHC) began in 2004 under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. If someone doesn’t have an ID for a bus pass, she doesn’t have to schlep across town to get one and come back tomorrow, because the DMV has a booth set up at the event. She doesn’t need to sign up for an appointment with a doctor or optometrist or dentist weeks in advance; she can walk up and be seen immediately.

It’s a one-stop homeless shop, and it’s helped over 70,000 people in San Francisco alone over the last decade.

Read more about how Project Homeless Connect works here.

What other one-stop services shops do you know about? What other issues could this work for?

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