Merced event will bridge the gap between homeless and services

Providing vital services in a one-stop opportunity to people who are homeless in Merced County is what this week’s Homeless Connect is all about, according to organizers.

The event is set for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the Hoffmeister Center at Central Presbyterian Church, 1920 Canal St.

People who are homeless can get help with housing, Social Security benefits or a number of other services – even a shower and haircut.

Jeanette Garcia, the Continuum of Care administrator, said about 25 service providers are expected at Homeless Connect, and includes a handful of organizations that have not been involved in past years.

“Their willingness to be there and provide the services directly at the event is going to be great,” she said. “For some (homeless people) it’s about making that initial contact with an agency.”

Urban Initiatives, a nonprofit hired to administer the Continuum of Care, will oversee Connect.

The last Connect in Merced drew about 250 people seeking help, she said. Similar events have been held in Los Banos for those who are homeless on the West Side.

There are 768 homeless people in Merced County, including 21 children, according to January’s 2014 Homeless Count and Survey from the Merced County Continuum of Care.

Michael Cooper, 40, of Atwater said he was once one of those people living on the street. For about six months, he slept under bridges or on riverbanks until he could get help from family and churches to find a place to stay.

Since then, he learned he was eligible for financial aid, and he’s two semesters away from finishing school at Merced College. As a member of Phi Theta Kappa, a national honor society, he’ll share his story at Homeless Connect.

“We’re going to be handing out information on how they can become college students,” he said.

Cooper said he wants others who are homeless to know he was once in their shoes and that there is a way out.

For more on Homeless Connect, visit or call Continuum of Care at (209) 628-4765.