Access to basic products and services -- like haircuts, lip balm, tampons -- can be difficult for Denver's homeless population to find. That's why the city's annual free resource fair for the homeless, Project Homeless Connect, is so important. More than forty organizations took part in this week's event at the Colorado Convention Center by providing a multitude of basic services. Chief among those organizations were Denver's Road Home, Mile High United Way and the City and County of Denver. Arrivals were paired one-on-one with volunteers, who helped them navigate the event according to their specific wants and needs. Tables were strewn with small items for the taking, including bottled water, hair combs and other products. A barber shop station, massage parlor and an eye-exam table were also on hand.
One service at the event appeared to garner more attention than any other: a desk at which people could sign up for ID cards (including copies of their birth certificates). Without a valid ID, it's often difficult for the homeless to take advantage of other potential benefits or services.
David Albrecht, 53, who introduced himself as a veteran of both the Navy and the Marines, says he lost his ID to the floods of recent days. "I was living under a tunnel at 76th and Sheridan when the rain washed all my stuff out under the Platte River. I came out here to get a new ID card and I'm trying to get a place to live," he said.
Angie Nelson, a volunteer with Denver's Road Home, provided information regarding Denver's housing options for the homeless. Starting this week, for example, low-income families and homeless can enter a drawing for the Housing Choice Voucher Lottery. "Winners receive a voucher that takes care of 70 percent of their rent, while they pay the remaining 30 percent," she said.
"Roughly 20,000 hopefuls enter each year for a chance to be one of just 200 randomly-selected winners," she added. The voucher program is funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and has recently expanded to make individuals eligible as well as families.
The acquisition of stable housing presents a challenge to homeless men and women in part because of legal issues. Relatively simple misdemeanors or unpaid parking tickets can often exacerbate preexisting financial hardships and prevent individuals from obtaining steady employment. To address this issue, PHC 13 set up a provisional "Homeless Court" onsite, complete with its own parking magistrate and group of volunteers who offered legal advice where needed.
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Other services included food stamp distribution, flu shots, benefits checks and free clothing -- boxes upon boxes upon boxes of it, courtesy of Karen Nelson and Nelson Ministries.
"Nine out of ten women are raped" at some point during their lives on the street," Nelson said. As a result, many homeless women are hesitant to wear overtly feminine clothing -- one reason she was offering them clothes made for men.
Despite a drop in Denver's homeless population over the past year -- from 12,605 in 2012 to 11,167 in 2013 -- a Project Homeless Connect representative expected record attendance at this year's event.
More from our News archive: "Photos of the Day: Animal evacuations after flood in Boulder."