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September 18, 2013

Friends,

This letter is to inform you about major upcoming changes to Minneapolis and Hennepin County's Project Homeless Connect event. 

As many of you know, the first Project Homeless Connect was held in December 2005 at the Basilica of St Mary during an intense blizzard.  We expected the event to draw around 200 people who were experiencing homelessness, but within the first hour we had over 500 people either in the room or waiting to get in line. The 25 volunteers we did have were overwhelmed, and we quickly realized that we had found a way to deliver services that was different enough to be exciting.  

This event was created and designed to do more than deliver services in a new way.  Project Homeless Connect was the first step in helping change our homeless response system, moving from a system of disconnected services to a community network where collaboration is key, services are woven together and collaborative providers are focused on the same goal: Ending Homelessness. Project Homeless Connect was intended to function only until we had the time and capital to develop single site one-stop shops, Opportunity Centers, which would function like a PHC event on a daily basis. 

In the past three years we have seen two such centers open, one for single adults and one for youth.  These sites offer a wide range of services including legal, mental and physical health, chemical dependency support, employment programs, haircuts, county services, ID and Birth Certificate assistance, and myriad other resources.  In addition to the two new centers, Hennepin County is undergoing a major overhaul of the way services are delivered in the community, creating six regional one-stop service centers.

This summer I asked the group of providers who make up the steering committee for the Minneapolis PHC event two simple questions: "Is this event still relevant?" and "Is it as effective as it can be?"  The answers were mixed, but, in general, the providers agreed that it is still relevant to deliver services in a way that is different from business as usual, and that we could deliver services even more effectively and better targeted to the right people. 

With that understanding, the team agreed to cancel the traditional December Project Homeless Connect event, and to instead work to create and pilot some smaller, more frequent events targeted towards those who are least likely to access services or are having the hardest time accessing services.  We will also work as a group to identify ways to make the Opportunity Centers more welcoming and service-rich, providing a year round PHC experience. This will be no small task.  We plan to talk with people who are homeless to learn why some access services at PHC and others don't. We will also have conversations with service providers about what they feel is the best way to move this event forward, and will look to other communities who have had successful PHC events to see how they transitioned to other models.  Our goal is to make the excitement and effectiveness of PHC available more than two days a year.

We will explore piloting a few new and innovative events this fall, and strive to create an evolved model of Connect in 2014. We will also work diligently to ensure that the Opportunity Centers are well-connected and integrated into the provider community, and that everyone who needs services can access them through multiple venues. Throughout this process, we will keep you all up to speed so you know what we are up to.

So, what does this mean for you?

As a volunteer-

The community will continue to have volunteer opportunities available, likely more often, and with varying hours and locations.  Our office and the PHC steering committee will also be looking to partner with local services agencies to provide opportunities for volunteers.

We remain committed to mailing you only about PHC related issues, but if you would like to get more regular updates about the work going on in the community, and how you can get involved on a volunteer, advocacy, or leadership basis, please click the link below and simply enter your address and we will make sure to keep you up to date.https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2QBMBLG

As a provider-

We will be working to make the Opportunity Centers as comprehensive and effective as possible. If you are not currently serving people at the Hennepin Opportunity Centers, but would like to, please contact me.  Smaller, more targeted events may include services that you provide and we would love to have you involved in those as well. If you do not currently get Heading Home Hennepin emails from Matthew, please let me know and I will add you to the list. Stay tuned!

As someone who accesses services-

Innovation and convenience don't end with the traditional PHC event. We will continue to bring services to people who need them where they are, and will continue to develop strong collaborations and new ways of doing business. The 140+ agencies who make up the PHC provider community will continue to find ways to deliver services in creative and relevant ways, and you will hear from us soon!

Thanks to all of you for your continued passion and commitment to helping end homelessness through connecting people with resources. We are dedicated to making services in this community as dynamic and effective as possible.

If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to contact Matthew.

With much gratitude,

Matthew M. Ayres
matthew.ayres@hennepin.us



In partnership with Project Homeless Connect, St. Stephen's Human Services has created The Oral History of Homelessness, an ongoing project that documents the stories of people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota through portrait photography and first-person narration.