Homeless and low-income services fair draws nearly 1,000

Henry Rodwell III smiled as a professional photographer snapped a rare portrait of him with his son, whose birth had prompted the single father to break his addiction to heroin and change his life.

Rodwell was one of nearly 1,000 homeless and low-income men, women and children who came to Thursday's Project Homeless Connect at M&T; Bank Stadium, an outreach event that intended to connect them with health, housing and employment services.

Amid the resume assistance, legal consultations, diabetes screenings, HIV screenings and dental exams, Rodwell saw an opportunity to build on his momentum to create a stable home for his three-year-old, Henry IV. He left with bags packed with corn on the cob, plums, books and T-shirts.

The one-day event was one of the largest of its kind for Baltimore in at least a decade, organizers said. Project manager Julia Smith said the event was unique because it offered actual services, rather than information on how to get them.

"They gave us a lot of food so I can feed my son and clothes so I can clothe him; it's been a very blessed day," Rodwell, 44, said.

The event is modeled after others in San Francisco and Denver, and is part of a strategy to help the city eventually eliminate homelessness.

Each night, some 4,000 people in Baltimore are homeless. Hundreds are children.

Rodwell dreams about having his own home. He and his son live with Rodwell's mother in West Baltimore. He signed up for low-income housing at Thursday's event, and hopes that he will soon be able to earn a salary as a truck driver. He recently enrolled in classes for his commercial driver's license.

"I'm trying to put it together; I am trying to make a life for my son," the single father said.

The child immediately took to Leigh Knight, one of 1,000 volunteers who helped guide the attendees through the massive event that stretched halfway around the Ravens' stadium.

"We're blessed and sometimes you don't realize how blessed you are," said Knight, who traveled with her husband, Jay, from Birmingham, Ala. for the annual meeting of the Beta Alpha Psi, an honorary organization for accounting and finance college majors and professionals.

The Baltimore office for KPMG, one of the country's Big Four accounting firms, approached the United Way of Central Maryland about hosting Project Homeless Connect to coincide with a day of service for the Beta Alpha Psi event.

The city also joined in putting on the event, which cost $60,000. Most of the money came from a KPMG donation, according to Sandy Monck, chief impact officer for the local United Way.

Tina Frank, 35, was able to get a state ID, copies of birth certificates for her children and paperwork to sign up for GED classes. But most importantly, she said she hopes the leads she made Thursday will help her find housing next week when she and her three teenage children have to move out of the shelter where they have been sleeping.

"I didn't know a lot about the different programs," Frank said.

Frank's youngest daughter, Melindy Carter, 15, got her hair cut by a Hair Cuttery stylist and her eldest daughter, Tyeneisha Frank, 17, left with a pair of reading glasses and an appointment with an optometrist.

Sean McFadden of the Biddle Street neighborhood and his wife, Janey, found eviction prevention help.

"I have three small kids, so I've got to do this," he said. "It gives me hope for some change."

Tashia Branch of West Baltimore, a laid-off security guard and mother of two, said whether the event will have a lasting effect on her life, will be up to her.

"If you take the time and you're willing to do the work, it will change your life," Branch said, as she comforted her 9-month-old son, Bishop, in her arms.



If you need help

Call 211 for the United Way of Central Maryland's 24-hour hotline for access to health and human service resources.

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