Connect event draws crowd
by Seth Hemmelgarns.firstname.lastname@example.org
Jackie Ybarra, 50, was one of the hundreds of people looking for assistance that would usually require visiting several different agencies to find.
Ybarra, a gay homeless man, came for housing and employment assistance, as well as reading glasses, a flu vaccination, a haircut, and other services. He found the Monday, October 7 event "extremely helpful."
"This would've taken me six months to get through all this stuff," he said of t
he services available.
All four floors of the center, at 1800 Market Street, were crowded with people seeking services. Dozens of volunteers were also on hand. Even the street behind the building had a fair number of people waiting for dentistry and other assistance.
Bevan Dufty, a gay man who serves as director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement for Mayor Ed Lee, said the event had been "wildly successful."
"The building is pulsating with excitement," said Dufty. "People have felt for so long" that disparities facing LGBTs, who make up a disproportionate part of the city's homeless population, need to be addressed, he said.
Dufty and other Connect planners have been influenced by local statistics. In late June, the biennial San Francisco Homeless Point-In-Time Count and Survey was released and, for the first time, included statistics on LGBT people. The report found that out of a total of 7,350 homeless people, more than one in four (29 percent) identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or "other" for a total of 2,132.
Based on the homeless report's findings and estimates that at least 94,234 LGBT people live in San Francisco, LGBT housing activists estimate that 2.3 percent are homeless, compared to less than 1 percent for the general population.
With the response to Monday's event, Dufty said, "The number one question is, 'What's next?'" He said many of the service providers who came Monday want to stay involved, and he predicted more LGBTQ Connects in the future. Officials also plan to organize a policy forum to share insights from the gathering.
Taja DeJesus, who's 34 and identifies as a transgender woman, said Monday that she had found referrals for food pantries and a volunteer position at a local food bank.
LGBTQ Connect was "excellent," said DeJesus. Providers were "very sensitive and very considerate to our needs," she said.
Sammie Rayner, a volunteer with Project Homeless Connect, the program after which LGBTQ Connect was modeled, was helping people check out and distributing surveys on behalf of the mayor's office. Through their questions, officials are hoping to find "better ways to serve the population," said Rayner, a straight ally.
She said that so far, people had indicated, "a lot of their challenges are mental health-related, so finding better ways to create better mental health services is big."
Lee's staff would aggregate the data so they could use it to "create more targeted services," she said.
Volunteer Stanley Lovelace, 51, was standing at a table covered with grocery bags that had been filled with bread, cookies, and other items.
"I love it," Lovelace, who's bisexual, said of the event. "I like seeing people happy. I like seeing people helping people." He said about 50 people had come to the table for help in the hour or so he'd been there.
At least one attendant was less satisfied than the others.
Robert Acosta, 52, who was standing near the "Tooth Mobile" parked behind the center, got reading glasses Monday and was hoping to see a dentist. However, he said, "It's pretty packed," and he wasn't sure he'd be seen.
Acosta, who's straight, said he'd tried unsuccessfully to find help at Monday's event getting disability benefits from the state's Employment Development Department. He's contacted that agency directly but thought he'd be able to get assistance at LGBTQ Connect. He said he was "disappointed" that he couldn't.
Organizers "have to be more specific" about the kind of assistance they can provide, Acosta said, but "other than that, they're working pretty good."
Monday's event even also drew elected officials from outside San Francisco.
In a statement to the Bay Area Reporter , Ken Yeager, the gay president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said he'd "like to explore if an LGBTQ Connect could work in Santa Clara County."
Tom Simplot, the only openly gay member of the Phoenix City Council, was also on hand.
In a phone interview afterward, Simplot said officials in his area are considering having an LGBTQ Connect there.
First, though, they have to collect baseline information from their annual homeless count. He said he's "already put in the request" that the next survey, planned for the spring, include whether people identify as LGBTQ. He said a Connect event would probably happen "not too far" after the survey.