Housing First director Eric Jefferson started Project Homeless Connect four years ago to provide services for the homeless in one place in one day. On January 28, Project Homeless Connect served approximately 300 people at The Grounds (The Greater Gulf State Fairgrounds) with medical, legal, housing, and employment services. Volunteers, including doctors, lawyers, nurses, dentists, social workers, and a judge gave their time. The Ground donated the venue.
There were vision screenings and free glasses. There were dental exams and care for diabetes and AIDS. A pharmacy filled the day’s prescriptions for free.
A man rolled up his pants to show a black-and-swollen leg and said he’d never seen a doctor about. Medical volunteers from the University of South Alabama gave him medicine that will make it better.
Civil and criminal cases were presented by lawyers to a judge, removing misdemeanors and cleaning up records. A man checking in said, “I need to see a lawyer about restitution that has gotten me into this situation.”
They received identification and coats and washed clothes in the Clean Machine provided by Ransom Cafe. They got help for pets through the Delta Dogs bike project and learned how to get bikes through Delta Bike Project. They applied for housing or for jobs from 14 employers. But the most popular services were the barber and beauty stations providing haircuts, styles and manicures. Women who apologized for biting their nails waved shiny red-and-purple fingertips. Rollers, razors, polish and styles were all provided by volunteers.
Project Homeless Connect is one way Jefferson and Housing First are getting people off the streets and into apartments. “We have a great staff and are succeeding in putting more people into housing, but homelessness is a community issue,” he said. “Look around and see how this community has come together. They are changing lives today.”