Homeless Connect event at Sac State provides hundreds a respite from the streets and access to resources
August 15, 2023
Hundreds of people without stable housing converged on Sacramento State’s Folsom Hall on Saturday, looking for relief from the stresses of the streets for just a few hours, and possibly forever.
They came by foot, bus, and bicycle to Homeless Connect, a daylong event that offered members of the city’s homeless population a chance to relax, enjoy a meal, shower, get a haircut, and obtain basic medical care while connecting to critical services to help lift them from the streets.
Sac State software and data analyst Don Nahhas and his wife, Dawn, organized this year’s event. They are founders of the nonprofit group Josh’s Heart, named for their son Joshua, who died in 2016 after fighting alcoholism and becoming homeless.
“I felt led by God to do this,” said Nahhas. “There is such a huge need in our community for people to just get basic things. We don’t have all of the answers, but we are going to give some comfort and allow people to have some fun while they are here.”
Sac State employees were among a small army of volunteers at the event. Others in attendance included new Sac State President Luke Wood and his family, Sacramento Vice Mayor Eric Guerra, and California state Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen. All three are graduates of Sac State.
“We have a commitment to supporting issues in our local community,” said Wood. “And what could be more important than giving members of our unhoused population the care and love and support that they deserve?”
As attendees arrived on Saturday, volunteers greeted them, helped them list their priorities for the day, and escorted them to their desired locations.
Many made a beeline for the Starbucks truck, where they could get Frappuccinos and iced lattes. Food trucks offered tamales, burgers, and other food items. Guests perused a library of paperback books and eased into comfy chairs to read. Some shopped for socks and shirts. They filled their beverage bottles with cold water from a giant blue container and munched on fresh fruit.
Everything was free.
Some people came simply to take a short break from life on the streets. Others were looking further into the future.
“I’m just really glad not to be in a tent right now,” said Heather Ochoa as a stylist from Great Clips trimmed her hair. “In this city, it’s a really scary place to be.”
“Today, I just want some time to relax and be around some nice, normal people.”
Ed Guerrero had larger ambitions.
He has been sleeping in his car since becoming disabled and losing his job and housing in 2020.
“I lost everything, and it’s hard,” he said, becoming emotional. “I need help.”
Upon checking in, Guerrero talked with a volunteer who steered him to agencies that provide low-income housing and shelter, some of which had representatives at Homeless Connect.
“I feel better already,” he said. “Maybe this will be a first step for me.”
Folsom Hall’s sprawling parking lot became a social services center, where representatives of various organizations helped attendees obtain phones, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, insurance, and mental health care, and other services. Visitors, some with their pet dogs and cats in tow, filled out applications and asked questions about paths out of homelessness.
Inside the building, where Sac State faculty and students from the College of Health and Human Services teach and study, visitors could get free prescription glasses within hours or have a painful tooth pulled. They could undergo hearing tests performed by Audiology students. The state Department of Motor Vehicles was on hand to set up homeless clients with ID cards, which are crucial to obtaining housing and other services.
Wood said he was proud of Sac State’s contributions to Homeless Connect, and that such work should always be a priority.
“This event recognizes that no matter who we are in this world, we all deserve dignity,” he said. “It’s the kind of work that we absolutely should be doing as human beings on this earth.”
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