Homeless find helping hands at convention center

Homeless attendees were given an education on housing and other useful topics.

Joy Petersen

Peceta Williams waited in line at the Minneapolis Convention Center, not for a usual event like a boating expo or a car show. Instead, she waited for education on housing – a thing she currently doesn’t have.

The Minneapolis resident and mother of two teenage daughters has been homeless four times.

“I’m tired of being homeless,” she said. “I’m trying to find housing that’s suitable that me and my kids can have a roof over our heads, that we won’t have to worry about the rent.”

Williams attended Project Homeless Connect Minneapolis and Hennepin County. Monday’s event was dedicated to connecting homeless and low income individuals and families with services they need.

The event was privately funded and free to any person who visited.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which provides the most recent statistics on the homeless populations nationwide, reported that nearly 3.5 million people were homeless at one point during 2007.

Over 2,000 people attended the event, Cathy ten Broeke, coordinator to end homelessness in Minneapolis, said. This is the fifth since 2005, and it enlisted the help of nearly 1,300 volunteers that met one-on-one with individuals seeking help and guided them to the services they needed.

While the event doesn’t directly provide housing immediately, ten Broeke said it opens a door for people to step through in the future.

“Now, while many people won’t walk away with housing today, they might be breaking down some of the barriers in order to get the housing,” she said.

In order to get people without addresses or e-mail to come to the event, ten Broeke said volunteers go out to talk to individuals in the community.

“We have outreach workers that go out to the streets and let people know about it,” she said. “Then, quickly word of mouth on the streets gets out about this event and the kinds of services it has to offer.”

The event offered services including dental, chiropractic and physical check-ups, legal help, housing information and free haircuts and lunches.

The longest lines at the event were for state IDs and for shoe vouchers.

Andrea Templeton has volunteered at the event twice, both times using what she’s learned as a third-year University law student.

Templeton connected visitors with the right legal providers, she said.

Overall, Templeton said the event provided services that are usually scattered and inaccessible to people and brings them to a single place.

“All the services are in once spot, which is an extremely useful idea,” she said.

Hill Murray High School senior and event volunteer Megan Westerheide said her sociology class lobbied at the capitol for better housing for the homeless.

Westerheide said she volunteered because she didn’t understand why some people slept in cars while she got to live in a “McMansion.”

While waiting in line for a haircut with her homeless visitor, the senior said even a new look can make a difference.

“They feel more confident to go out and look for a job,” she said.