Finding a fresh approach to the long-standing dilemma of providing healthier, safer lives for locally homeless people has resulted in the new community-based Change 4 Real Change.
Concord's launch of the program at last week's annual Project Homeless Connect at the Willow Pass Center is aimed at assisting homeless individuals in a more effective way by providing vouchers rather than spare change.
Hundreds attended Project Homeless Connect to link up at one or more of the 40 different free service booths available in that single location.
Homeless individuals had come for help with problems related to food, health, housing, employment, and the Clean Slate program, which assists with cleaning up legal records, to help them become employable. Some just came for free hair care, massage or pet care, but discovered other resources.
Those in line were cautiously optimistic about Change 4 Real Change, but focused on getting help that day.
"If I can get my record cleared, and get a job, I won't need it," one man said.
Change 4 Real Change is way for residents to conveniently purchase a book of five vouchers for $5 from downtown businesses and give vouchers to homeless people instead of spare change.
The vouchers are good for transportation to a homeless service center and a hot meal. Toll-free telephone numbers to receive other services are listed on the back.
If residents still have spare change, they can drop
All of the Change 4 Real Change work will be done by volunteers. Sixty businesses have volunteered to participate and Mechanics Bank will hold funds that are collected and disburse payments when needed.
"Mechanics Bank has really stepped up," police Lt. Robin Heinemann said. "The bank donated $2,000 to get the program started."
The public can donate at Mechanic's Bank, at any participating business and at www.change4realchange.org. More program information is available on Facebook.
The new program began with a police presentation at the Concord City Council in November. Mayor Ron Leone asked what the city could do, after listening to police explain the homeless situation in the city.
Leone recognized that people in Concord are sympathetic to their plight, and that handouts are not meeting their needs, according to Heinemann.
The mayor recruited the Concord Police Department and city staff, Project Hope, Central County Homeless Outreach, Mechanics Bank, faith-based organizations and other stakeholders to develop a proactive approach.
"When we give money directly to the homeless, we are enabling them to stay on our streets instead of encouraging them to seek the help that so many of them need," Leone said. "An important part of Change 4 Real Change is to educate the public."
Heinemann offered an example of how it might make a difference.
"Around last Christmas, officers stopped a woman who was the source of hundreds of calls to the police, who has mental health and substance abuse issues.
"She had (collected) $1,300 from people donating. We hope that individuals who make their living getting donations will make that next and very, very difficult step to get the help that they need," Heinemann explained.
Doug Stewart of Central County Homeless Outreach said, "Homeless people asking for spare change often collect just enough to stay on the street. The longer they stay on the street, the less likely it is that they will get a job or find a permanent home. On average, homeless people are more frequent users of emergency rooms and die 30 years sooner than people who are not on the street."
By March, the group research, discussion and meetings had evolved into a plan for Change 4 Real Change. Concord is looking for more volunteers and recruiting a board of directors for the program which will be run by the public, with the help of the city. Contact Heinemann at 925-671-3391 for more information.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.