Will Rice enjoyed the first massage of his life today. It wasn't a fancy spa, but the more pedestrian St. Vincent de Paul Community Center on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, where Rice and scores of other homeless men and women got some help at "Project Homeless Connect," a one-stop "fair" providing 42 services ranging from massages to dental care to drug- and alcohol-addiction programs.
There was a table for the folks from Alcoholics Anonymous, another where people could sign up for food stamps and another where homeless veterans could find a helping hand. There also was a walk-up version of Alameda County's innovative Homeless/Caring Court in which Superior Court Judge Gordon Baranco helped people clear their criminal records of minor offenses.
The idea is to help cut through the red tape that often overwhelms many of the 3,500 homeless people in Oakland, which has the largest population of homeless people in the East Bay. The city, taking a page from San Francisco's playbook, plans to hold them twice a year.
And though officials don't expect to solve homelessness overnight, they hope the fairs will get people into the network of programs and off the streets. To spread the word about the fair, outreach workers passed out flyers.
Philip Arca, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, guessed that the fair would help about 300 people by the end of the day. St. Vincent de Paul seemed a natural place to host the fair, as it's well known for offering the homeless a free lunch seven days a week.
And such programs are generally respected by the homeless. Camile Choyce, 25, said a program much like St. Vincent de Paul turned her life around almost three years ago.