Event today offers help for homeless in Merced

Veterans, others can receive backpacks, care and more

tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comJune 21, 2013 

— Nonprofits, Merced County agencies, health care providers and others will bring services to Merced's homeless today.

The third annual Merced Homeless Connect is "one-stop shopping" for homeless Mercedians, said Merced Rescue Mission Director of Marketing Phil Schmauss. It's planned from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Central Presbyterian Church, 1920 Canal St.

"The problem with homelessness is disaffiliation," Schmauss said.

People living on the street don't have any safety net, he said, and can lose track of ID such as birth certificates — the kind of items needed to get a job or even into a shelter.

The event is a way to educate the homeless on the services available to them, which are integral to getting housing and employment.

Merced Homeless Connect is part of the Continuum of Care 10-year Plan to End Homelessness. In May 2011, Merced County became one of hundreds of cities and counties around the country to complete a 10-year plan, which uses a housing-first model.

The event offers quality-of-life services, including medical care, dentistry, haircuts, showers and clothing.

"Literally, they change their appearance in just that day," Schmauss said.

According to numbers from Merced County Association of Governments, last year's event in Merced drew 177 people, 25 of them veterans.

Thirty-two got IDs, 45 took showers, 15 received referrals for vouchers for homeless veterans and 87 picked up low-income housing applications, among others.

Backpacks are a new addition to this year's event. They were meant to draw in more people in need. Schmauss said the 250 bags come with socks, a shirt, a hat, gloves and a blanket, as well as food and toiletries.

The backpacks came free of charge from Los Angeles-based Hope Mill Inc. "The backpacks, I think, are going to be a huge hit," Schmauss said.

A count in January found 372 adults and children in Merced living on the streets or in homeless shelters, which is down from 502 the previous year. The survey drew some controversy this year because a portion of it was recounted by order of officials.

Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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