Project Homeless Connect draws plenty of visitors at its fourth event

More people than expected attended the most recent Project Homeless Connect event, but more than one-fourth of attendees said they are not currently homeless.

According to figures released Wednesday, the Project Homeless Connect event held Oct. 1 attracted 1,780 people to the Minneapolis Convention Center. The event, hosted by the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness, brings together a variety of services under one roof to make them easily accessible for people experiencing homelessness. Some of the resources available help attendees obtain legal services, jobs, housing, education, medical care and many more basic needs.

The fourth Project Homeless Connect held in Minneapolis was dubbed a success by organizers.

“We were prepared for that amount, but we weren’t expecting it,” Matthew Ayres, program analyst in the Office to End Homelessness said. “We’re assuming most of them are homeless (and) hadn’t been to an event before.”

Ayres estimates that around half of the people experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis attended the event. About 27 percent of participants identified themselves as not currently homeless, but as people living paycheck to paycheck, in unstable housing or who “need a little bit of a bump to get back on their feet,” Ayres said. An estimated 48 percent of people at the event said they have no current income.

Attendees were fans of everyday products such as hygiene articles and shoes more than long-term services such as housing. Still, more than half of the attendees identified housing as a primary service sought.

Deborah Holland, originally from Dayton, Ohio, has lived in Minneapolis for about 16 months. She was at the event to collect books and personal hygiene products for girls she works with at the Salvation Army and to get a shoe voucher for winter boots.

Volunteers gave away nearly 500 of the vouchers for free pairs of shoes, which were one of the event’s hottest commodities.

“It went over really well,” said Tina Kimball, a volunteer with one of the law firms working at the event. She said she helped people get bus cards, hygiene bags and clothing. “Every situation is different. Some people are with the same person all day. I haven’t had anybody that had to have dental care or anything like that, so I just kind of help people gather up their stuff.”

Some of the booths catering to housing services and education were a little bit quieter, helping people with more in-depth, long-term needs. YouthLink, a Downtown drop-in center for youth experiencing homelessness said most of its visitors asked about housing.

“A lot of youth don’t consider themselves homeless” said Marc Hamann, a case manager and technical services manager with YouthLink. “They say they’re ‘couch-hopping’ or staying with friends.”

More than four out of five people who came to the event had never been to an event before. This may be a sign of success in getting attendees more directly connected with services they need and the popularity of the event through word of mouth.  The next Project Homeless Connect, the city’s fifth, will take place April 28 and will focus more on getting people dental care and state IDs.

“You can’t do anything without a state ID,” Ayres said.  Pragmatic services like these are a crucial part of the larger Hennepin County 10-year plan to end homelessness.  

To learn more about the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness or to volunteer for an event, visit www.headinghomehennepin.org or call 612-673-2525.