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Come learn the difference a day makes in lives of homeless

Next week, Jewish Volunteer Day at Project Homeless Connect will take place for the seventh year in a row. The occasion lets me reflect on my mom, Maely, who worked in the civil rights movement during the ’60s as a fundraising coordinator, working with A. Philip Randolph on the 1963 March on Washington. We took pride in seeing many Jewish leaders on the front lines of the struggle for civil rights.

My mom has been gone for almost 30 years, but her legacy sustains me in my work as director of HOPE (Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. I believe helping individuals and families exit homelessness and lead healthier lives is among our most important civil-rights responsibilities as Jews.

 Poverty and homelessness are among the greatest issues facing our society and are at the root of so much suffering. Tikkun olam speaks to many of us who see a responsibility to help heal our neighborhoods, our community, our city and the world. For me, that is exactly what Project Homeless Connect does. It takes place all day Wednesday, Dec. 11.

Founded in 2004 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and Alex Tourk — a great guy who just happens to be Jewish — Project Homeless Connect enables a person experiencing homelessness to obtain vital services in one day at one location, when it normally can take weeks or even months to access these services.

Some 2,000 individuals come to PHC at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to receive these services. Corporations, nonprofits and government agencies provide dental care, eyeglasses, food, medical care, mental health services, California identification cards, hygiene products, voicemail accounts, SSI benefits, job placement, legal advice, wheelchair repair, addiction services and more.

In the past decade, PHC has mobilized 45,000 volunteers to provide services to more than 75,000 homeless and low-income San Franciscans. The model has been replicated in more than 260 cities across the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia.

One available service is the Homeward Bound program, which works to reunite homeless individuals with family or friends. We confirm that someone is awaiting their arrival and can house and care for them, and Homeward Bound provides bus travel and meal vouchers. In the past seven years, more than 8,000 people have been able to return home or to family or friends. It has been very successful, with fewer than two dozen returning.

I am also proud that a year ago, Mayor Lee established Every Day Connect, which makes the PHC model even more dynamic. You can follow PHC on Facebook or Twitter to learn of small things that make a big difference, such as a microwave for someone living in an SRO.

On Wednesday, Dec. 11, I wonder if you might give a few hours to help out for Jewish Volunteer Day at Project Homeless Connect.

PHC is incredibly well organized — it is so easy to volunteer. No one should be concerned about having the right skill set to help. One of the best jobs is to be a client escort, making sure that homeless individuals get each of the services they need. Several volunteers from last year’s event mentioned that clients saw their Jewish Volunteer Day name tags and shared that they, too, were Jewish. It opened another avenue of dialogue and connection.

Once people check in and identify the services they most need to access, a client escort guides them through the auditorium’s main floor. I enjoy watching the interactions between clients and volunteers as they achieve their goals. It is inspiring.

We also need dentists, podiatrists and others with professional skills directly relevant to clients.

Jewish Volunteer Day is one of my PHC favorites, seeing so many friends and colleagues I know from civic life as well as from Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.

This year, be one of the hundreds of volunteers on this inspirational day of service in our community. Please register online with the Jewish Community Relations Council at www.jcrc.org.

Bevan Dufty is director of HOPE, which is mobilizing San Francisco to help end homelessness.