It was a rare day for the Reno-Sparks homeless, who were shown a touch of kindness from local businesses that volunteered their services and access to resources.
Brewer walked away with a trim and some information.
"I saw some fliers at the mission and thought I'd come over here and try to see what the progress is on my SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and job possibilities and decided I needed a haircut," Brewer said.
Tuesday marked the first Project Homeless Connect event in Reno, a nationwide movement that is helping communities to provide a "one-stop shop" of services to the homeless, according to Krista Lee, homeless coordinator for the city of Reno. About 50 local organizations donated their time and assistance to provide information and health services to those who entered the Reno Events Center from 7 a.m. to noon.
Lee said the project was designed to help people who live on the streets or in shelters find resources to improve their situations. Various organizations representing mental health, employment and disability services were ready to offer guidance, as well as free coffee and activities for children. Some volunteers gave immunizations for the flu and testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, while Veteran Affairs groups took a corner to talk to visitors.
"Supercuts is providing free haircuts for people so they can clean up and find work and feel better about themselves for a while," Lee said.
Beverly Bayan, program manager for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) said her organization's caseload has increased from less than 7,000 to 7,200 per month. WIC, a supplemental nutrition program, helps expectant mothers and women with children up to age 5 who are considered at risk. Bayan said there are specific provisions for the homeless who apply for aid.
"We do what we can to help the homeless in getting them into clinics, getting them the resources available and then also education because it's not just to give them a fish, but to teach them to fish as well," Bayan said. "So education is a big component."
Funding is provided from a federal grant that is distributed through the state to the Washoe County Health District, Bayan said.
"I haven't looked at the numbers lately, but the homeless are a very small percent, but very important part because the need is so high."
Also at the event Tuesday was Lynnie Shore, a public health nurse who was publicizing free vaccines for influenza and pneumonia. Shore said the seasonal flu is the leading cause of illness in the United States and more than 36,000 die from it each year, including 100 children, and approximately 200,000 are hospitalized.
With such numbers, Shore said it's important that the homeless are vaccinated every year to survive the winter season, especially during the flu's peak season of January, February and into March.
"It's still not too late to get the immunization done through the Washoe County Health District," Shore said.
About 500 homeless individuals were anticipated to attend for the five-hour event. Lee said many had been without a permanent place to live for a long time, but there were also those who had recently taken to the streets.
"They might have been homeless before or in another community or were staying with family and friends or didn't have their own place ... or for some reason got thrown out of their place," Lee said. "On a daily basis I see a lot of people coming in to say, 'This is the first time I've been homeless. What do I do?' "
Brewer is no stranger to the plight shared by many in Washoe County. He has been staying at the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission. He said he came to Reno to get married five years ago, then got a divorce and has been on the streets of Reno and Sparks ever since, moving around from Reno's "tent city," which closed in October, to living by the Truckee River in Sparks.
"This (event) is great because a lot of people don't understand just how the predicament is of being out on the streets and being homeless," Brewer said. "A lot of people close their doors because there's nothing available to the homeless."
Brewer collects $205 from his SSI. He said he can't get regular work because doing so would stop that source of income.
"So I've been doing spot work where people can pay underneath the table," he said. "I sell the papers, the Reno Gazette-Journal, and stand out on a corner."
Finding an apartment on $205 a month is virtually impossible, he said.
In the recession, the question weighing most heavily on the minds of the region's transient population is about employment opportunities. Lee said Project Homeless Connect contacted as many businesses as possible but that it was difficult to receive very many commitments because there was already a job fair at the Grand Sierra Resort on Tuesday.
Other barriers exist to achieving long-term employment for the homeless, Lee said, especially if the only experience they have comes from temporary jobs.
"Employment is a big problem for people who are homeless right now because they can't go to just any day labor place and get sent out right away," Lee said. "It's really difficult when you've been relying on temp jobs and you don't have that steady history to get the one-up on someone else who's applying for the same job."
Each year, the city of Reno conducts a "point in time" count of the homeless in the area. The last available figures, according to the city's Web site, www.cityofreno.com, were posted on Jan. 31, 2007. Those numbers indicated that 98 homeless individuals were living outdoors in Washoe County. The count also showed 923 people were living in emergency, transitional or permanent supportive housing. Furthermore, 2,916 individuals were staying in weekly motels.
The next point in time count will be announced after Jan. 29, Lee said.