After the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, students in my 7th grade social studies class reflected on how they could address a local social justice issue. They decided that they wanted to help alleviate the suffering of homeless individuals. On the same day, I saw a tweet by Kara Zordel, executive director of Project Homeless Connect San Francisco. Ms. Zordel was requesting dry clothing, ponchos and other supplies that were badly needed for people facing cold, rainy weather. 7th graders initiated a school wide call for donations. Hamlin students, parents and faculty members donated 73 pairs of socks, 56 t-shirts, 136 trash bags, 9 ponchos, 1 roll of duct tape and 1 jacket.
Not content to merely donate materials from afar, students were interested in really understanding how Project Homeless Connect works, so we asked Ms. Zordel if we could visit.
PHC was created in 2004 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Since then, the volunteer-run model has been replicated in over 200 cities across the United States and the world. Companies like Google, Salesforce and Twitter have supported Project Homeless Connect.
“Project Homeless Connect excels in connecting the most vulnerable San Franciscans to vital resources throughout the city. At our one-stop shop events and in our office every day, we link participants to difficult to obtain services including medical, dental and vision care, and employment assistance. By mobilizing city and community agencies, as well as thousands of volunteers, we are able to ensure that our participants receive holistic care in a dignified setting” (Project Homeless Connect website).
Ms. Zordel connected us to PHC’s Director of Resources, Amy Golsong. Ms. Golsong invited Hamlin to visit the Bill Graham auditorium the day before a “Connect” event. She took us on a tour of the enormous venue that hosts over 1500 people seeking a variety of services. Each connect event is run by hundreds of volunteers.
Dental care, eyeglasses, HIV testing, housing information, food, hygiene products, medical care, mental health services, SSI benefits, legal advice, California Identification cards, voice mail accounts, employment counseling/job placement, wheelchair repair, addiction services, haircuts, acupuncture, photo portraits and more.
After the tour, Golsong answered several thoughtful questions from Hamlin students. Throughout the Q and A it became clear that Project Homeless Connect works to treat each homeless person as a visible human being. Golsong spoke about how homeless people can go for months at a time without someone speaking or even looking at them. PHC strives to combat feelings of alienation and isolation that are common with people living on the streets.
A Hamlin student had this to say about visiting Project Homeless Connect:
“A lot of the time, better off people don’t feel particularly bad for the homeless living on the street because they justify their situation by assuming that they did something wrong to get them in that place. Whether it is a moral fulfillment to do this, and eliminate feelings of guilt, or a pure lack of compassion, I think that this mindset is always unacceptable and despicable under all circumstances. Project Homeless Connect puts these stereotypes aside, which is what makes them such an innovative organization epitomizing human sincerity and strengthens my often withering trust in our species.”
To hear the reflection of another Hamlin student, please watch the video below:
For more information about Project Homeless Connect, please visit:
Special thanks to Hamlin parent chaperones, Krutika Patel, Kate Leraris, Ben de Vries, Jennifer Furtado and Jane von Bothmer