Big turnout expected at Minneapolis event to help homelessby Sunny Thao, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — About 1,500 homeless people are expected to attend an biannual event Monday in Minneapolis that connects homeless people to social and medical services.
The ninth Project Homeless Connect event was held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis and partners gather multiple resources are gathered in one location so that homeless people can access services that they need. Services include dental care, assistance with job interviews and resumes, applying for housing, eye exams and obtaining government documents, such as birth certificates.
"All services are located in one place to help resolve issues as quickly as possible," said LuAnn Schmaus, the public affairs spokeswoman for Hennepin County. "It's easily accessible and helps bring everything together."
Schmaus said that each homeless person is assigned to a volunteer who helps identify the services the person needs. Afterward, volunteers guide them to services and share a free lunch.
Project Homeless Connect started in San Francisco in 2004 and has since been replicated in more than 200 cities across the U.S., as well as in Australia and Canada. This year, the Minneapolis event is expected to attract more than 1,500 homeless people.
Schmaus said that Minneapolis' efforts to end homelessness had been improving, but that progress was affected by the economic recession.
"We were making great strides until the economy crashed," Schmaus said. "Then it became a whole new ball game."
As part of a state and county initiative to end homelessness, Schmaus said that project has been improving its services over the years.
Services once unavailable to people suffering from long term homelessness are now accessible, such as psychiatric help for the mentally ill. Because of this, the project expects to serve more people who suffer from long term homelessness.
Long term homelessness usually has underlying causes like chemical dependencies, posttraumatic stress disorder, disabilities or mental illness, she said.
Schmaus said that Project Homeless Connect services are helpful to the homeless, but that affordable housing is the main concern.
"It's really interesting to see how many people are willing to help," Schmaus said. "But the biggest issue here is affordable housing. Building low income housing is crucial to stop these cycles of homelessness."