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New approach to help Sonoma County’s homeless coming Friday

A Sonoma County nonprofit is launching a first-ever wellness fair for the homeless, modeled after one of the nation's most successful outreach programs that connects homeless people with basic needs like food and shelter as well as services such as housing, health care and substance abuse treatment.

Catholic Charities on Friday will shut down its daily operations on A Street in Santa Rosa to host what will be the county's most robust single day of service for the homeless, offering preventative medical care, housing leads and other help including haircuts, legal counseling and enrollment in county welfare programs.

Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, said she looked at a similar approach in San Francisco when building the local program.

San Francisco's widely recognized model, called Project Homeless Connect, offers health and welfare services for the homeless at no cost and has been replicated throughout the state and across the country.

'So often, when we think of homeless people, we think they just need a meal and a bed, but really, they need real wellness opportunities, too, and access to health care,' Holmes said. 'We've realized that not only is poor health a cause of homelessness, but homelessness also exacerbates people's serious health issues, so we're trying to break that cycle.'

Friday's event will also offer free flu shots, HIV testing, dental screenings, mental health care, a children's play area, free food, music and more.

Holmes said roughly a dozen nonprofits and other organizations are donating goods and services, including Exchange Bank, EZ Smile Family Dental Group and Empire College.

Holmes, who is spearheading the local approach to homeless people's health and wellness, called the matter pressing.

Unstable housing, irregular meals, chronic stress and anxiety and delayed health care all contribute to the cycle of homelessness, she said.

'We're trying to break down some of the extreme health and social barriers out there, and help people navigate getting their basic needs met,' Holmes said. 'If we can help people feel more confident, they get so excited for what's in front of them.'

Catholic Charities is collecting raffle prizes all week to award at Friday's event, Holmes said. She's seeking donations of items such as bus passes, toiletries, food gift cards and backpacks.

'Homelessness really bears on a person's mental and physical well-being, so we're looking for anything that can help provide some help and respite from living on the streets,' she said.

Friday's fair begins at 2:30 p.m. at 465 A St. in Santa Rosa and is expected to draw about 200 people.

Those interested in donating can call Catholic Charities at 528-8712.

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart @pressdemocrat.com.

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