Project Homeless Connect Rochester  

HomelessConnectLogoTBK brings Project Homeless Connect to Rochester again

On September 22 something extraordinary happened in Rochester as Temple B'rith Kodesh worked to bring Project Homeless Connect Rochester to the Blue Cross arena from 9am to 4pm. Project Homeless Connect Rochester (PHCR) brought together dozens of agencies that serve the homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless to connect them with services they need. Hundreds of volunteers made it happen. And many of them came from TBK.

Connecting People to Services
In 2009 a small group of determined individuals brought Project Homeless Connect to Rochester for the first time. Sponsors weren't sure how many people would show up, but they knew that many people were hurting and needed help. On that cold October day over 900 of them came to connect with services. Over 200 volunteers were there to help them find what they needed.

One volunteer who was deeply impressed that day was Tom Fink, former president of TBK and long-time member of the Social Action Committee, who took the day off work to volunteer. "It was so inspiring to see how many agencies there are that work day in and day out to provide help in Rochester. And it was great to see them coming together and trying hard to help every individual find what they need."

Barbara Grosh, who later went on to become chair of the Social Action Committee at TBK, was on the planning committee for the 2009 event. "A committee of volunteers pulled the event together quickly, with little money or structure, just asking people to help. Almost everyone we asked said yes. It made me feel that anything can happen."

PHCR was intended to be a recurring event. But the 2009 event happened so quickly and with so little formal structure, that it wasn't institutionalized. That's why Tom Fink suggested that TBK get involved. Says Tom, "TBK has a history of helping the homeless via Tempro, a nonprofit TBK started which provides emergency and transitional housing. It was a logical step to get involved in a project that helps to avert homelessness."

Many Types of Homelessness
Doris Armstrong, project coordinator says, "When I first got involved, I had a picture of homeless people living under bridges. But many are just people who are doubled up, sleeping on the couches of friends or relatives while they make a transition. People lose their homes because of a difficult situation--a lost job, a divorce, a medical crisis. There are so many agencies working to help people before they're on the streets. It's great to see them work together."

Bringing it All Together
One problem faced by those in need is the baffling number of agencies who provide services and the difficulty of completing the paperwork required to access benefits. At PHCR, most of those agencies were in one place, with an emphasis on lowering barriers to access. People were able to check with the county's Department of Human Services to see the status of applications they've made for Medicaid, section 8 housing, food stamps, and other forms of public assistance. Many people have problems completing such applications because they've lost their ID or other paperwork. The DMV, county department of Vital Statistics, Social Security Administration and department of veterans' affairs were onsite to help with such problems. Teams of lawyers were on hand to help with legal issues of every kind. Agencies that provide help with job hunting and job readiness were there, as will agencies that help with chemical dependency and mental health case management.

Volunteers served as escorts to help people find the services they need. Tom Fink was an escort in 2009. "I wasn't sure to what to expect, but it was rewarding. You developed rapport with people as you talked with them about what they needed and helped them find the right agency to help. It was a very human connection."

Improved Medical Services
A new volunteer who helped bring PHCR together for September 22 was TBK-member Dr. Clint Koenig. Clint was drafted because of his expertise in providing medical care to poor people at the Monroe Plan for Medical Care, where he works. "We took a 2 pronged approach to medical services at the event," says Clint. "What can we do on site the day of the event that will help and what can we do that will have lasting effects through the coming year?"

On September 22 there were vaccinations available for flu, pneumonia and hepatitis. There were screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes, skin cancer, HIV and other STDs: pregnancy testing, foot care, and dental exams. People who don't have health insurance were able to enroll for it. People who don't have a primary care doctor were able to get appointments with one. "We want people to have a long-term relationship with their doctor, so they can get high quality care with follow-up," says Clint. The Greater Rochester Health Foundation is an event supporter, hoping to connect people with insurance and primary care doctors so they will not use local emergency rooms for routine care.

Immediate Comforts Too
While many of the service providers aimed at getting people into a better long-term situation, some aimed at immediate comfort. Haircuts were a popular service provided on site. Lunch was served. Hot showers were available. And TBK volunteer Sandra Goldman headed up an effort to collect coats for all who need them. "We hate to think of people going into the fall without a warm coat," says Sandy. Coats were dropped off at TBK, but Sandy has reached far wider. "We had collection boxes at over 20 different locations, mostly churches. It was really heart-warming to see how well each congregation responded when we asked." 

Another service added to this year's event was bicycle repair. Rochester Community Bikes has done so much in recent years to make bicycles available to low income people so that they can get around the city, this year they were on site to provide help with maintenance.

The Key to It All - Volunteers
Event coordinator Barbara Grosh worked hard to find enough volunteers. "It takes a lot of people to make this event happen. We needed volunteers for all kinds of things: serving lunch, handing out coats, making appointments for people with doctors, running documents from the printer to the providers, serving as escorts. There was something for everyone. It was a day where we all felt good about the Rochester community and each of us can be a part of how our community comes together."