Story and photos by Chris Stone
When you’re homeless, the little things count a lot. Take a DMV ID card, for example.
“Without an ID, it’s like being a nobody,” said Linda Akbar who works for the St. Vincent de Paul Village. “It’s like ‘No one knows who I am.’ ”
Akbar was an intake volunteer Wednesday at the ninth annual Project Homeless Connect at Golden Hall, which paired 90 service providers and close to 400 volunteers with 1,145 people seeking help.
Wednesday’s total exceeds the 854 San Diegans served at same event on Dec. 4, 2013, and the 1,143 served on Jan. 30, 2013, said Maria Velasquez, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Housing Commission.
A Department of Motor Vehicles ID card and a haircut were the most requested services, organizers said.
Men, women and children also got in a long line for haircuts. Thirty-three students and two instructors from the California Hair Design Academy in Chula Vista and La Mesa were on hand to clip off long locks.
The six-hour resource fair, organized by the San Diego Housing Commission, offered free services including medical and dental screenings, flu shots, housing and employment counseling, legal referrals, foot care and a hot meal.
Even veterinarian care for pets.
“We hope to build a movement that says we can indeed end homeless in the city,” said Councilman Todd Gloria.
The number of homeless people seeking Wednesday’s free services has never been larger.
“This is the longest line I’ve ever seen,” Gloria said. “My optimistic hope is that it is because we got the word out and that people feel the sincerity of our effort to help … or it might be because the numbers (of homeless) are growing.”
San Diego County’s homeless population total was 8,500 last year, down 4 percent from the year before. The totals from the Regional Task Force on the Homeless’ countywide count last week are expected to be released in a few weeks, said Gloria, whose 3rd District includes downtown.
It is hoped that the Veterans Administration and City Hall efforts will continue to reduce the number of homeless, he said.
Earlier this week, Gloria announced $16 million in federal grants to support rehousing programs for the homeless and related social services in San Diego.
“The vast majority of the folks are mentally ill or have a substance abuse problem, but the truth is I’m starting to see a lot more senior citizens, a lot of families and a lot of folks who have been economically displaced.” Gloria said at a busy Golden Hall.
For the first time at the fair, homeless residents could enter their names into a database list for housing.
The information will be entered into the Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement System to help provide the neediest with a roof over their heads.
The fair is “often an entry point to getting people off the streets, an opportunity for individuals who want and need help to actually get in the front door and hopefully work their way up and out of homelessness.”
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