For servant hearts, filling an expansive room at Cook Convention Center with warmth merited the effort.
Project Homeless Connect – sponsored by FedEx Cares – was full throttle last Thursday (Sept. 19th), with hundreds of needy Memphians receiving assistance and resources.
"This is really a blessing, what y'all are doing for us," one patron told a volunteer. "We really need the help."
Dozens of agencies and service providers collaborated to offer health screenings, housing resources, job search information, IDs, free haircuts, and various other services. Volunteers, about 130 of them, greeted the attendees, ushering them to the source of help that most matched the need.
"For all the people who have come out today, I just want them to get the services they need whether it's food stamps, an ID, or legal assistance," said Porsha Goodman, a volunteer.
Like the other volunteers, Goodman had hopes that those served would be able to use the experience to develop or enhance their ability to acquire services when needed.
About 10 years ago, Project Homeless Connect sprouted in San Francisco. Mayor Gavin Newsom saw how much funding was going into homeless relief agencies, yet so many people remained homeless. The health department set up a card table on a city block one day, reaching out to people who did not have adequate transportation or paperwork to seek government assistance. Project Homeless Connect is now in 200 cities nationwide.
"I want every homeless person here to leave with hope and a visual path out of homelessness," said Katie Kitchin, executive director of Community Alliance for the homeless,
"Sometimes, they will come here and not necessarily leave with keys to an apartment, but if they work with the volunteers and know 'next week I have a job interview,' a job lead to follow up on, or a shelter voucher for the next few weeks, those small things can really be key building blocks back into housing and into the community."
The warm-spirited volunteers moved Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell Jr.
"I mean look at all the people who came out to volunteer!" said Luttrell. "This is our ongoing initiative to eradicate homelessness in Shelby County. It's a bold initiative, but you have to have bold ideas to make bold progress."
Shannon Brown, Senior Vice-President, Chief Human Resources and Diversity Officer of FedEx Express, said he was passionate about the homeless because "any one of us could be in this situation."
"Most homeless people just don't know where to go, so they lose hope and confidence in themselves to try to find out and receive help," said Brown. "What we are doing is taking action and instilling hope back into individuals. Services are available to find housing, medical care, or employment."
The event was a great place to connect because Memphis does care, he said.