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November 15, 2019
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Making connections

WATSONVILLE — On the season’s first day of heavy rain, hundreds of homeless and low-income people came to the Veterans Memorial Building for a hot meal and a chance to utilize several services that normally might be out of reach to them.

Watsonville Connect brought together about 50 providers Thursday, with services that included medical and dental care, legal assistance, school services and dozens of others.

Ken Williams said he came for a chance to renew his ID card. He also loaded a large paper bag with groceries and fruit.

Williams said he appreciated the opportunity to complete that important task.

“It’s definitely a good opportunity for me,” he said.

Robert Gonzalez of Watsonville said he has been homeless for the past seven years.

“These people help us in a big way,” he said. “This is an important event and I always look forward to the help they offer. I have a lot of friends out there that are homeless and I know they count on these services; I am thankful.”

Participants could also get free cell phones, a massage, take a yoga class and get a pair of eye glasses.

The Watsonville event, now in its fourth year, is the South County version of Project Homeless Connect, which began in Santa Cruz a decade ago.

The event was so successful that organizers brought it here, rather than bus hundreds of people to North County.

Connect events were ultimately created to bring several vital services under one roof, to benefit people whose days might otherwise be filled walking miles to find food, shelter and other vital services.

“It makes it easy for people to live,” said organizer Jenna Gallant. “It’s wonderful to be able to help the community, and the clients enjoy being treated like people who matter.”

At the same time, it is a chance for service providers to connect with a population of people that too often live behind the scenes.

“This is a special event because we’re connecting with every person,” said Pajaro Valley Shelter Services Executive Director Kimberly Ferm.

Public health nurse Matt Nathanson said the event has shifted in recent years from covering solely the homeless to low-income people and those living “on the edge.”

He added that offering the services in one place makes it more likely that the people will take advantage of vital services they might otherwise ignore or put off.

Clara Steitz of the Santa Cruz County Public Defenders office said she found being at the event “very gratifying.”

“It is a way of being a productive member of society,” she said. “I know this is the right path for me; that I can help out community out like this.”