BrokenRoots: SF’s Project Homeless Connect

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The day breaks sunny and nippy in San Francisco and the wind is already whipping around Polk Street, in front of City Hall and down past the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium as the first Project Homeless Connect volunteer coordinators enter the auditorium prior to 7 AM. Just before midnight, the news is that some 2200 homeless showed up for services today. Final tallies are not yet published.

The mission of Project Homeless ConnectTM (PHC) is to connect San Francisco’s homeless with the system of care that will help them move off the streets and into housing.

Outside The Bill Graham Auditorium circa 1:30 pm

More than 1,000 individuals from every sector of the Bay Area work together to provide efficient and compassionate service to those in need. Volunteers lead and manage most service areas from calling on personal and business resources, to developing collaborative relationships between agencies, to setting up chairs and tables. The common goal is to provide relevant and easily accessible onsite services for clients while creating a valuable experience for all volunteers. From Project Homeless Connect

A woman and her companion have navigated their way through the services and have just finished treating her pooch to a free checkup, provided through VET SOS. Vet SOS treats some 60 pets today, providing general checkups, flea and other parasite control, vaccinations, and implanting chips. Animals needing spaying or neutering or suffering from serious conditions are transported to the SFPCA for free services. (Note: The woman above agrees to allow me to take her picture; she wants to show off her dog, who has just been treated by VET SOS volunteers.)

One doorway down, Pets Unlimited volunteers provide free pet watching for homeless people while they go inside for assistance.

San Francisco Food Bank:  As of 1:45 PM, an SF Foodbank volunteer says 2100 people have passed through the doors, each one receiving 7 pounds of food.

Federal Express does seem to care. Inside, they have a prime location, shipping cards and letters for free.

Haight Ashbury Free Clinic For over 30 years, the famous clinic has continued to provide “free, high quality, demystified and comprehensive health care that is culturally sensitive, non-judgmental and accessible to all.”

A VET SOS van is at the ready to transport pets to the SPCA for treatments additional free treatments.

Shopping Cart Check in. A safe place for belongings … plastic bags, backpacks, suitcases, bicycles … and a broken drum …

First Step: Intake, Available in Cantonese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Spanish and Rusian. A group of data entry volunteers works throughout the day.

Intake coordinator Elayne Hada, who works for SF’s Department of Public Health in Behavior Health Services, has volunteered for PHC since the first event five years ago.

The focus today is on vision, she says, and the entire café section has been converted for use by volunteer optomologists and optometrists. PHC ususally serves free lunch in the cafe, but today they are distributing bag lunches.

Hada, who is assisted today by nearly 100 volunteers, has learned over the years how important it is to engage her team in online training prior to a PHC event.

“Many of these volunteers are here for the first time; this is a very empowering experience for some of them, It is the first time they are coming face to face with this problem, and it can be an overwhelming experience. I mean they get to look a homeless person in the eye and realize ‘there but for the grace of God …'”

PHC gets better each time out, Hada says. “We leave, we debrief, we improve each year. Things are moving a lot smoother, we’ve categorized services, we’ve color coded signs to make it easier for people to find where to go.”

First time volunteers John and Roslyn become fast friends as they help escort clients from the intake registration.

“Rosyln wants me to marry her,” he jokes. “She just got here from Trinidad and look, she’s already volunteering.”

“This is my first ‘outing’ in San Francisco,” Roslyn laughs, explaining that, indeed, she has just arrived in the States, and that her sister, who works for the City’s Department of Public Health had committed to volunteer today and so Roslyn decided to come along.

“I never met any homeless people in when I lived in Idaho, John says. “There were ‘0’ homeless people in Idaho. It’s just so strange that I find so many homeless people here who are from Idaho. I’ll be walking by a group of homeless people and hear someone saying they’re from Idaho. It unreal.”

John, who works now as a caterer, knows he is one of the lucky ones. “I was homeless myself for seven years, I used to sleep right on the other side of this building, near the hot air vent to stay warm. Look at my face, it’s all scarred up. When you live on the street you have to figure you’re gonna get beat up at least once a week. It’s wonderful now to be able to give something back to my community.”

Roslyn looks down and shakes her head, then cuddles into him for a picture.

Inside the Center

Services include: HIV & TB Testing; needle exchange; bug and lice exams; vision, dental, hearing; Food Stamps & SSI;  financial services; senior services; Shelter reservations and housing information; employment services;  transportation to and from PHC, and (for eligible clients) to family outside San Francisco; Behavioral, Mental health & Addiction assistance; legal and credit services, including assistance setting up bank accounts; crisis intervention; free phone calls to anywhere in the country and free voice mail accounts;  safe shopping cart station, also for suitcases, bikes, backpacks;  veteran’s services; bag lunches; bulk food distribution ….

Just in time, the City of San Francisco last Friday received a shipment of H1N1 vaccinations. Volunteers administered 200 shots today and flu vaccinations are available free Thursday through Saturday:

H1N1 Vaccination

Thursday, Oct. 29 – Saturday, Oct. 31

only for high-risk people. Call your doctor first to find out if they have vaccine.  If they do not, you can be vaccinated at:

   * Castro-Mission Health Center

   * Maxine Hall Health Center

   * Ocean Park Health Center

   * Potrero Hill Health Center

   * Silver Avenue Family Health Center

   * Southeast Health Center

   * Mission Neighborhood Health Center

   * North East Medical Services

   * St. Anthony’s Free Medical Clinic Link

Click for Additional information

or call: 311

Dental Services:  Over 70 people receive free dental services and over 200 are screened today by a volunteer team of dentists and hygienists supervised by Dr. Jeff Jang. The volunteers come from SF Dental Services, University of the Pacific, School of Dentistry, and the Department of Public Health VA Hospital. “This is the biggest attendance we have ever had because of the number of volunteers involved, says Jang. “We’re seeing a lot of needy clients and I’m noticing that dental problems are becoming much more severe. There’s no more Denticare and social and health services have just about totally dried up.” On-site services include extractions, fillings, and cleanings. Patients requiring more extensive treatments are transported to off-site locations throughout the day for additional free services.

Jobs Now: Stimulus Money at Work: Over 600 jobs created through Federal Funds

The San Francisco Human Services Agency (SF-HSA) is using newly available federal stimulus funds to expand subsidized employment opportunities, with a goal of placing 1,000 participants in jobs between May 2009 and September 2010.  This new program is called JOBS NOW!

Consistent with the goals of the federal stimulus package, the primary objectives of the JOBS NOW! program are to provide an immediate source of income for low-income families and to stimulate local economic recovery.  JOBS NOW! builds upon several successful transitional jobs programs already in place at SF-HSA, which were designed to help unemployed individuals address barriers to employment, develop soft skills, gain work experience and progress toward self-sufficiency. JOBS NOW! participants will exit the program with stable employment history, leaving them better positioned to obtain an unsubsidized job when the stimulus period ends. The JOBS NOW! program benefits local employers by providing referrals of qualified workers and by subsidizing 100% of their wages until September 30, 2010.  It’s a win-win!

The federal government’s Interagency Council on Homelessness has declared Project Homeless Connect a national best practice model. PHC is replicated in over 200 cities across the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia.

In May of 2009, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Sean Donovan expressed interest in showcasing Project Homeless Connect as a best practice for national service as part of the recently signed Service Act. Link

Hairdressers and barbers are on hand to cut and trim locks, shave beards…

FedEx provides writing materials and free mailing so the homeless can connect with family and loved ones.

The waits for Chiropractors, masseuses, and foot specialists are long, but well worth it.

A handful of volunteers work on repairing wheelchairs …. “So many people have trouble walking … it’s so important that they have a way to pull themselves up and have access to a means of mobility….”  Nearby, a large garbage bin containers about 30 pairs of discarded crutches …

An estimated 6,000-12,000 people are homeless on any given night in San Francisco. Twenty-percent are chronically homeless. Widespread foreclosures, the demands of returning veterans, and the reduction of federal funding for affordable housing create constant challenges in a declining economy. Dealing with the vexing problem requires intervention not only by government but also the community at large.

The need for Project Homeless ConnectTM (PHC) became clear after 278 volunteers surveyed the homeless in downtown San Francisco in October 2004. Under the direction of Mayor Gavin Newsom, volunteers covered a 60-square-block area in the Tenderloin district, where 85% of the city’s social services are located.

Some SF Facts

• Families are precariously housed in doubled-up situations or in substandard housing.

• Of those who are homeless 80% are between the ages of 18 – 25.

• Of the City’s homeless population, 2,700 people are members of homeless families, representing roughly 40% of this population.

• On any given night, an estimated 2,000 youth are living on the streets in the City with 95% currently using drugs.

The faces of homelessness remain fuzzy to so many of us. But today I truly experienced homelessness. It is as real to me now as the soft fuzz of hair on my arms. As the breath moving in and out of my lungs. As the terror in my heart.   Today, I touched homelessness.   I felt it’s anguished dignity in my gut. Tasted it in the dryness of my mouth. I smelled its despair. I heard its hacking cough. I saw homeless vets, so many with one remaining stump of a leg, pushing themselves on battered wheelchairs through the crowds,in ragtag sweatshirts and faded Giants caps, unseeing and unseen  Alone in a crowd of thousands.

Do something. Anything.  Even if it is only for some six hours every other month. Search for a Project Homeless Connect nearby.

I see no smiles on the faces of the homeless today. Each person is barely surviving. They wait in lines in silence. There is no laughter.  Only raw need. As if each person has held on, has barely just survived, until this day. These few hours. When they are treated as humans. As people who deserve help. Have the right to have a healthy dog. Some job training. An infected seethingly painful tooth extracted.

It is not enough. It it just not enough.

Bless them all.

“BrokenRoots is a group for writers, photographers, and advocates interested in addressing the issues facing the homeless, primarily as a result of the current financial crisis.  Our goal is to engage readers to report in on homeless issues in their communities, either by posting information into one of our diaries, or by contributing a diary or a photo-essay.  The  BrokenRoots project team writes and promotes diaries and other journalism; forges connections with other blogs, news sources, and organizations; creates collaborative projects; and shares related news and resources.” (photo by Stranded Wind)



  1. when I was in the Bay area last March every doorway downtown had a soul in it and it was bitter cold……

    thank you both for the work and for the sharing of it with me………

    I know there is a war on the poor because I was in it for a short time……..

    most of the anger has dissipated in me mostly what is left is sorrow and hopelessness for us……..

    how can people shut out the awareness of the sufferring of the least of them……….

    how is our culture so cold, so callous to allow this to exist……….

    there is so much abundance and so much want and suffering…..

    thank you my friend……….

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