One Day of Charity in Santa Cruz: A Band-Aid Event or A Transformational Experience?

According to Project Homeless Connect, which includes corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies, the organization began in San Francisco in 2004 “when Mayor Gavin Newsom challenged his county workers to create a better system of care for the homeless community.” In Santa Cruz, Project Homeless Connect is “a service filled day that aims at widespread social justice for homeless.”

Since 2004, Project Homeless Connect “has spread to more than 220 cities in 3 different countries to become a national best practice model with great success in getting homeless families off the streets and breaking the cycle of poverty. Rather than being a band-aid event, it is a transformational experience not only for the guests, but also for the volunteers, agencies, and businesses that participate.”

On April 17th, the third annual Project Homeless Connect Santa Cruz was held inside and outside the Civic Auditorium on Church Street in Santa Cruz. Hundreds of people, most of whom are experiencing homelessness, and therefore typically marginalized and criminalized in our community, were provided with a wide range of services and some goods.

Many people were greatly appreciative of the efforts that went into the event, and thankful for all the charity they received. Other people were skeptical about the nature of the event, though they too appreciated what they received, even if they saw the charity as more of a token gesture.

Project Homeless Connect Santa Cruz aims to provide “an integrated system of care” which “focuses on each aspect of homelessness, providing everything from California identification cards and disability benefits to clean socks and a warm meal.” Other services provided for the day include “dental care, eyeglasses, family support, food, HIV testing, housing, hygiene products, medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, SSI benefits, legal advice, voice mail, employment counseling, job placement, wheelchair repair, veterinary services, and more.”

Reflecting on the event, Project Homeless Connect Santa Cruz wrote on their Facebook page, “24 hours later and we are still in AWE. What an incredible and successful day yesterday. We are so grateful for all of the support from agencies, groups, individuals -too numerous and overwhelming to name. There were so many beautiful moments throughout the day…”

The following information about Project Homeless Connect Santa Cruz was published on their Facebook page:

“It is estimated that Santa Cruz County is home to at least 9,041 homeless individuals. Many of these individuals are homeless for the first time in their life. They are unfamiliar with the services this community has to offer and they are ashamed of their need. We hope to provide a comforting environment at least for one day to ensure that the basic needs of these citizens are still met.

“Project Homeless Connect was held in Santa Cruz County for the first time on March 30th, 2010. More than 300 volunteers and 80 service providers connected with more than 1,000 clients, providing everything from medical screenings and dental care to clothing vouchers and a warm meal.

“In less than eight hours, 105 individuals received California Identification that will allow them to access services and employment. Two hundred and fifty-one individuals connected with benefits agencies, filing applications for SNAP, TANF and SSI. Seventy-eight individuals received medical screenings, 35 received dental screenings and every single person received a warm meal.

“Project Homeless Connect is a one-day community wide event, our second annual event was held on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, providing housing support and quality of life services to our homeless community.”