On Thursday, September 19th, the city’s homeless will be able to access services and resources to help eliminate the barriers that keep them on the streets during the fourth installment of Project Homeless Connect Memphis.
The one-day event will take place inside the Memphis Cook Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Primarily targeting unsheltered homeless individuals or those who live in emergency shelters, Project Homeless Connect pairs each guest with a volunteer who helps them access services and resources for housing, jobs, medical screenings, and legal advice at one of the numerous booths at the event. Those who are unstably housed — living with friends or relatives — are also welcome to attend from 1 to 3 p.m.
Considering that September is National Voter Registration month, the event will place some focus on restoring voting rights for the homeless. Representatives of "street court," an access-to-justice program that provides voting rights restoration to people experiencing homelessness, will work with event attendees. "Street Court" will also help provide access to legal consultation and criminal court cost waivers at the event.
“[We help] them get court costs off their record that blocks them from getting a driver’s license or from opening a bank account or leasing a rental apartment,” said Chris Martin of the Shelby County Public Defender's Office. “These are very serious barriers to their reentry into the mainstream of society. They can’t get off the streets if they can’t open a bank account, get a driver’s license, or lease an apartment. These court costs are standing in the way of a lot of people being able to do that. So we wanted to provide this access to justice program to help them overcome that.”
Martin said "Street Court" has served 75 to 100 guests at each Project Homeless Connect Memphis event since 2012. "Street Court" is collaboratively spearheaded by The Shelby County Public Defender, District Attorney General, Judge Karen Massey, and Judge Robert Childers.
Project Homeless Connect is in need of volunteers to assist homeless guests as they access the services they need at different booths. Volunteers can also help hand out food, clothing and assist with the different service areas. Those interested in volunteering can go here for more information. Training for volunteers will be available at 4 p.m. today (September 18th) at the Cook Convention Center (255 N. Main St.).
Homelessness has declined in the city since the Mayor's Action Plan to End Homelessness has been implemented. In 2012, 2,076 people were homeless on an average day, according to Katie Kitchin, director of the the Community Alliance. In 2013, so far, the average count is 1,816 people homeless on an average day.
Project Homeless Connect is a national effort to provide basic services and housing options for the homeless.