Hundreds of homeless individuals are at Creighton University today taking part in the 10th annual Project Homeless Connect Omaha project. Organizer Ed Shada says busloads of individuals will make their way to campus today to connect with services that will help get them off the streets.
Shada says each homeless individual is paired with a volunteer that serves as an advocate to help them navigate them through the day. There are service groups ready to help those individuals set up bank accounts, sign up for Social Security, and veteran services to food stamp benefits. They also offer free haircuts to those who want one and are given several meals at no cost.
There are dozens of health care providers also on hand to help with physical problems, dental and eye exams to mental health counseling services. The city prosecutor and a judge are also present ready to look at outstanding warrants for minor offenses like jaywalking or loitering. Those have to be cleared before a person can sign up for some government services. Shada says between 30 and 40 cases are cleared up each year and no arrests have ever been made.
Over the past ten years, Project Homeless has helped nearly 4,000 individuals get off the streets but Shada says that isn’t enough. He says, “The success is not what I thought it would be. I thought in a ten year period of time we would have done a lot more for the homeless. It is not to say that we haven’t done a lot. We get about 12% of those who attend into housing. We’ve gotten over 300 sets of dentures, 500 pair of glasses and yet there are still homeless.”
Shada says representatives from Norfolk, Kansas City and Chicago are also in Omaha to watch and participate in the event in hopes of creating something similar in their city.