Project Homeless Connect aims to help with support, prayer

It was a busy Wednesday morning at the “prayer booth,” where volunteers from a local church had settled in for a long day of nonstop calling on the Lord.

When you’re praying for the homeless, you’ve got a lot to ask for.

“We pray for whatever they need,” said the tireless Gloria Gordon, president of outreach ministries for Greater St. Paul Cathedral Church, who was manning the booth at Project Homeless Connect with two other volunteers. “We ask to heal their bodies, minds and souls, and to help them find housing and jobs.”

Gordon’s was one of dozens of booths set up at Cashman Center for the large-scale biannual event, which aims to help thousands of the valley’s homeless find housing, jobs and other services.

In Gordon’s case, those services included granting a few words of support, a comforting hug and lots of prayers.

“She prayed for God to help us with housing and food,” said 45-year-old Laura Rowe, who traveled to the event from the Shade Tree shelter with her 16- and 11-year-old children.

Like many of the more than 2,000 who were expected to attend the event, Rowe became homeless with her children after losing her job. The family has been staying in the shelter for two months.

Gesturing toward Gordon’s prayer booth, Rowe said: “At this point, I need all the help I can get.”

After a few minutes in a prayer circle, Rowe and her children headed off to look for donated clothes and lunch.

The daylong Project Homeless Connect, organized by the Nevada Homeless Alliance, brings together dozens of city, county and social service agencies that help the homeless.

Those who attend can get free food and clothing, haircuts, housing referrals, job placement assistance, and dental and medical screenings. Judges are on site to hear misdemeanor cases and process warrants to help the homeless deal with legal issues.

Hundreds of volunteers help set up, take down and work the event.

An estimated 11,500 people are homeless in Southern Nevada on any given day.

Despite continuing grim economic news, those who work with the valley’s less fortunate weren’t necessarily expecting an increase in homelessness, said Shannon West, regional homeless services coordinator for Clark County.

That’s because service providers have been working to help people before things get to that point.

“The safety net we have in place is catching these folks before they fall into homelessness,” West said in a recent interview.

Local shelters, food banks and assistance programs have been reporting increases in requests for help because of higher food and gasoline prices and layoffs.

Clark County has seen an increase in the number of people needing rental vouchers, West said.

But “it’s much less expensive to keep someone in a home than to get them off the streets,” she said.

For Timothy, 49, “home” is hard to remember. He’s been without one for about 11 years.

“I’m falling apart at the seams,” Timothy said while limping toward a makeshift clinic at Project Homeless Connect. “I can’t support myself. It’s been going on for years.”

Timothy said he suffers from severe arthritis, spinal pain and other health problems, and hauling his “60-pound backpack” around the streets of Las Vegas isn’t helping.

Linda Lera-Randle El, director of the Straight from the Streets homeless outreach program, was steering Timothy toward the clinic.

“You see so many people these days for whom the days turn into years,” Lera-Randle El said. “All of a sudden you look around and you’re in your 40s, still staying at a shelter.”

Sica, 36, was hoping to get off the streets before it becomes a way of life. She became homeless only recently, she said, after the disability payments she received for mental health issues stopped.

Sica, who is now living at Shade Tree, also attended Project Homeless Connect looking for help.

She was one of more than 70 people who had stopped by the prayer booth by midday, asking to pray with Gordon or other volunteers.

“I asked for God to remove my weaknesses, to help me with temptation,” she said.

As Sica moved along, Gordon turned with a smile to the next person and asked: “What would you like the Lord to do for you today?”

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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