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Project Homeless Connect draws huge crowd from all over the county

on June 16, 2011

The line outside Richmond Municipal Auditorium was long Wednesday morning. Real long. It ran in and out the front door as nearly 860 pairs of feet waited patiently for the day to begin. For these Contra Costa County residents it was a time to reacquaint themselves with county services.

Project Homeless Connect was a one-day event sponsored by the City of Richmond, Chevron and West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee. The event linked those in need with social and health services such as DMV ID cards, medical screenings, personal care and legal services. Family pets were even attended to as they received free exams and vaccinations by the Contra Costa County Animal Service.

“The whole goal is to connect people to services that will help them and their homelessness,” said event organizer Cynthia Belon, behavioral health director for the Contra Costa County Department of Health Services.

Belon said for many people services are difficult to access and the difficulty of accessing public transportation is a huge barrier. To get around this, Project Homeless Connect rented buses and provided bus and BART tickets to get people to the venue, she said. “We made sure that on a day like this where our services were going to be provided in one location, we were able to get as many people here that wanted to be here,” said Belon.

With 215 service providers accounting for nearly 50 distinct services, Belon said the success of Project Homeless Connect revolves around tailoring the program’s offerings to individual needs. “We’re not the expert, the clients are the experts in knowing what they need,” said Belon. “By providing a menu and allowing them to tell us what is important, they can feel at the end of the day they really got what they came here for.”

Attendee David Farr, a Hilltop resident, came to the event for legal advice. Farr said that in 1978 he was charged with having a shotgun in the trunk of his car. Now, he said, he just wants to clear his name. A service offered at Project Homeless Connect called Clean Slate court helped him achieve that goal. Clean Slate is a program that helps people with criminal records get their RAP sheet (record of arrest and prosecution) and clear their name. It also provides legal assistance to determine one’s eligibility for post-conviction solutions.

“I thought the charge went away,” said Farr. “About 30 years later I was taking some classes at San Francisco State when I realized the charge was still there.”

Farr currently studies gerontology at San Francisco State and wants to fulfill his dream of helping senior citizens. He also understands finding a job with a criminal record isn’t easy. “Having a clean record opens up doors so I can get through and help someone else,” said Farr. “Without having a clean record people won’t let you be part of their organization.”

Jessie Warner, policy director of Clean Slate Practice of the East Bay Community Law Center, said the court expunged more than 40 convictions at the event Wednesday, while more than 90 petitions were signed to dismiss pursuant. A handful of felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors, she said.

“Over 150 people consulted with our attorney and law student volunteers to learn more about their employment rights and the remedies available to clean up their criminal record,” said Warner. “And over 60 people were fingerprinted by the UC Police Department to obtain their RAP sheet from the state Department of Justice.”

Warner said RAP sheets help advocates determine what remedies to petition for and to connect the individual with pro bono attorneys.

Obtaining a valid ID is another issue for the homeless, because society rarely acknowledges people without one. Volunteer Shayne Kaleo of Concord and the Department of Motor Vehicles were trying to help. “Without an ID usually you can’t get work anywhere,” said Kaleo. “Any type of food pantry, or sometimes medical services—you need a form of ID. So this is the first part towards obtaining stability.”

Kaleo said that at the event the DMV issued 55 new ID cards and distributed another 120 $7 vouchers to obtain an ID card at their nearest DMV location. “Once you get an ID,” said Kaleo, “it shows the housing authority or Social Security office you’re able to work towards something stable.”

Towards the back of the auditorium, engulfed by bright spotlights, sat the barbershop.  Packed with a waiting list 130 long, it was offering free hair cuts. Moler Barber College student Price Moore of Richmond was grooming the white beard and grey hair of Richmond resident Clem Castille. “Everybody needs help,” said Moore. “Some people do want a job or do better for themselves, and first impressions are important.”

Moore said he’s sometimes talked to people about cutting their dreadlocks or letting their hair down to make themselves more presentable and that’s helped some get a job.

Castille, sitting in the barber chair, couldn’t agree more. “I feel real good,” said Castille. “Going to the barber makes an old man feel young again!”

Castille said he appreciates what Project Homeless Connect is doing for the community but wishes it could happen more often. “I’m lovin’ today,” said Castille. “Maybe someone will get lucky and find a job, or come up with a new game plan.”




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