Annual Homeless Connect Project Provides Essential Services

On January 23rd, the Kings-Tulare Homeless Alliance held their annual Homeless Connect that provided such services as medical screenings, public benefits, pet services, haircuts, clothing and more.

The Visalia event was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church while the event in Tulare was held at the First Baptist Church.

“What we try to do is provide services all in one space,” Pastor Suzy Ward explained, who is co-chair for the Kings-Tulare Homeless Alliance. “It’s part of a much larger piece that’s required through H.U.D. (Department of Housing and Urban Development).”

Intake at registration is vital to organizations like the KTHA who are required to collect numbers to the federal government for the homeless census, aka the Point-In-Time count.

Over 100 homeless came through the church doors to receive services in Visalia.

According to Leticia Hinojosa, Coordinator Entry Manager for the KTHA, the Point-In-Time count assists the organization with funding for their housing navigators and housing programs.

It’s a collaborative effort with multiple agencies coming together to provide a welcoming and useful event for people struggling with homelessness.

Police officers from Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement (H.O.P.E) team were seen milling around the church out of uniform. And Visalia Mayor Bob Link stopped by to talk with Ward about the event.

He was curious to see if it was the best turnout the project has had.

Ward explained that it wasn’t. There have been years when over 300 homeless were registered at intake. But because the Local Initiatives Navigation Center (LINC) has already been providing services to homeless in the area, the influx during the annual Homeless Connect Project isn’t as high.

For example, the Bethlehem Center in Visalia has been providing similar services to homeless, but on a weekly basis. Led by the KTHA, 15-20 agencies get together every Tuesday to provide one-on-one assistance to our most vulnerable.

“That’s good though,” Link commented. “That says something for the community. You’re having to service less people because they’re being serviced more in the community while their needs are there.”

Although the Bethlehem Center has been a consistent location for this kind of support and helped quell the demand, Homeless Connect has brought some new services to fill the gap.

Ward explained that the Homeless Connect Project provides healthcare services. Family Healthcare Network, Anthem Blue Cross, and the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency were all present providing a variety of services such as immunizations, bloodwork, and confidential STD testing.

Homeless were even given the unique opportunity to receive foot screenings, an invaluable service for a population that is infamous for poor foot health. In fact, a literature search conducted by PLOS ONE, revealed that foot problems among homeless were present in up to 65% of homeless across study populations.

“We’re opening this up as an opportunity for anyone that has concerns about their feet,” Chris Tagle said, a medical student from A.T. Still University. “If there’s anything abnormal that we find then [our supervisor] or another one of the providers will offer some consultation on the spot. There’s small simple treatments we can do here, but if there’s anything else more extensive that requires additional follow up, we refer them to a podiatrist.”

Referrals may be a common event in a population that has little access to healthcare. But even if a person is directed to see a specialist, it’s uncertain if they will have the ability or resources to get there. Some homeless are so debilitated by their ailments that it’s a struggle just to get down the block, let alone a hospital across town.

Which is why Homeless Connect arranged rides with their partner agencies for those clients who received referrals. Four volunteers from Family Services and Kings View drove around in vans and gave homeless rides to see their specialists.

Homeless were also given backpacks containing a “survival kit” provided by HHSA’s Public Health department to help mitigate and prevent some of these conditions. The kits included first aid, sanitizer, menstrual hygiene products, socks and foot powder.

“They wanted it to be meaningful and useful for people that are going to be surviving out there,” Cory Silva former manager for Public Health explained. “Socks are a huge thing with the homeless population, maintaining your feet so they’re dry, so the powder helps with that.”

And of course, no service event for the homeless is complete without a hot meal. 15 men from a bible study group out of the Christ Lutheran Church, handed out hot spaghetti and salad for anyone that came through the doors.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate in my life,” Paul Godlin, 64, explained his reasoning for volunteering as he helped bag salad in the kitchen. Godlin is a member of bible study group that has been serving the homeless community for many years. “To whom much is given, much is expected…We all need to be helping the less fortunate.”

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