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From Addict to Counselor - How Project Homeless Connect Helped Henry Belton Turn His Life Around

Written by Featured Organization on 10 December 2010.

When he first walked through the doors of a Project Homeless Connect event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Henry Belton had been on the streets for more than a decade. For much of that time he had been addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol.

"I was lost," says Henry. "I'd had a few bad breaks and before I knew it my life was in crisis and I couldn't seem to find a way out. Project Homeless Connect helped me find a way out."

Today Henry has an apartment of his own; he has been clean and sober for five years, was appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom to serve as the Chairman of the City's Shelter Monitoring Committee. He is also now an employee of Project Homeless Connect, holding the position of peer manager and client relations.

"Project Homeless Connect helped me get my life back," says Henry. "I see people on the streets every day who are going through what I went through. That's why I work with PHC. I want to help them turn their life around too, and this is the best way to do that."

In the more than 5 years since PHC first began the program has helped 31,900 homeless people, providing them with a broad array of services, but with the economy in turmoil the number of people in need keeps rising.

"So many people in San Francisco continue to struggle," says Judith Klain, Director of Project Homeless Connect. "Each event we see new faces, people, who despite their best efforts, are unable to find work and are at risk of ending up on the streets. However, we are fortunate to live in a community where people respond to this rising need by volunteering in greater numbers. Without them we couldn't do the work we do, or help the people we help."

Klain says volunteers are more than ever the key for the next Project Homeless Connect (PHC) event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove Street in San Francisco, on Wednesday, December 8 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Volunteers help provide desperately needed services to all those who come to the event. Those services range from helping people get temporary housing, to signing up for safety net programs such as SSI or General Assistance, accessing health care with medical, dental and vision check-ups, even something as simple as getting a haircut or their wheelchair repaired.

Many of the volunteers in December will be from Kaiser Permanente, which is sponsoring the event for the third time.

"The health of any community is not measured in dollars and cents but in how it takes care of those in need," says Dr. Mason Turner, Chief of Psychiatry Kaiser Permanente San Francisco and Associate Director of Regional Mental Health. "At Kaiser Permanente we recognize how important it is to give back to the community, to reach out to people who are not as fortunate as we are."

PHC has proven so effective that it is serving as the model for similar programs in more than 220 cities across the U.S. as well as in Australia and Canada.

"I know how big an impact PHC has had on my life," says Henry Belton. "And at each event I see others like me, people who are doing everything they can to get off the streets, to change their life. That's what keeps me coming back here. It's knowing that what we do here today could make a world of difference in not just changing someone's life, it could save their life."

For more information contact Kevin McCormack or go to www.projecthomelessconnect.com

About Project Homeless Connect

Project Homeless Connect makes a real difference in the lives of the City's homeless by bringing together almost 250 non-profit agencies, private businesses and volunteers to assist San Franciscans in need. Since the program's inception in October 2004 as a joint effort of San Francisco's health care, housing and human service systems, Project Homeless Connect has been supported by tens of thousands of volunteers, individuals and companies giving their time, cash, clothing, food and essential services. To date, this program has provided services to thousands of the City's most economically disadvantaged men, women and children with basic human needs and housing. Project Homeless Connect is a key component of Mayor Newsom's 10-year plan to abolish homelessness in San Francisco. This unprecedented approach to helping the homeless has been adopted as a national model in more than 170 jurisdictions in the U.S and has also been implemented in Canada and Australia.

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