My Volunteer Experience With Project Homeless Connect Minneapolis

Pulling Cart

Photo credit: Pulling Cart, originally uploaded by moriza.
I found out about Project Homeless Connect Minneapolis through a consultant friend of mine.  I had mentioned that my computer student, Shawn, was still homeless and I was trying to help him get housing, get help, get something.  He was a Vet, had hearing/vision impairment and really was trying hard to live like the rest of us.  It all started when Shawn’s laptop was stolen at the shelter in Downtown Minneapolis…the one I helped him get…

Project Homeless Connect

This was started in San Francisco in 2004 and has since spread across the United States.  St. Paul has on as do many counties in Minnesota.  The goal is to round up three groups of people all in one place:

  • Volunteers
  • People who need help
  • Service Providers

What makes these events so different is that each person (a guest) gets a guide (a volunteer) who helps them through the event; finding services, chatting about things, standing in line and building a connection.  All the guides are volunteers and we are instructed to listen to our hearts and help the guests as best we can.  There was a huge turnout from the Target corporation over 500+ volunteers (or so I heard) so congratulations to them!
enoshima is my home

I talked with Matt back in October from Project Homeless Connect Minneapolis about Shawn’s situation.  Not only did he provide some solid leads to housing resources through the VA, he presented the program in a way that was appealing to me and even said that I could be Shawn’s guide for the day!


Doing a search for “homeless” on Flickr, I was amazing to find 1,763 results.  Many photos were in the US but I also saw photos from India and Japan.

Homeless in Sugamo 2

Homeless man in Tokyo

Mumbai Homeless

I had been in contact with Shawn the month before and got a note from him by email that he was at a friend’s house for Thanksgiving and was enjoying a warm bed and a full belly which made me smile.  I didn’t think I’d have a problem getting in touch with him for the event.  I went to the training the next Thursday in preparation for the following Monday 12/8/2008 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  I emailed Shawn and didn’t hear back.  I sort of second guessed myself about going but thought, “Hey, there will be a few thousand people who will need your help; go.” and I did.

His Entire World...Homeless man and his best friend, Brandy the dog

The Event

First let me say that I have never walked into a place and felt so much good energy coming from so many people.  It must be similar to what people experience at prayer gatherings.  I was amazed and was immediately happy I’d decided to go.  I checked in and had volunteered to work in the “Internet Cafe” since I hadn’t heard back from Shawn.  After checking my coat, I headed over.

Homeless Vet

Helping Others

Walking down the halls and seeing guests and guides paired off by the hundreds blew my mind.  I have never seen so many people getting help at one time and so many people openly giving.  I instantly felt I was where I belonged.  I checked in with the other volunteers at the Internet Cafe.  Some were with their guests, some were manning the computers.  There were phones and long distance calling cards available so there were volunteers helping with that too.  I told all the volunteers on computers I would be happy to relieve them.  I chatted with available volunteers if this was their first event (my first one) and what they thought so far.  I was interested to hear how working with guests had gone for people and what quirky things had happened.


One thing I wasn’t prepared for were the children.  At the training, they had said there would be families and women with children.  The stereotype for a homeless person is a White male in his 50’s who is probably a war veteran.  Of course, we all know how inaccurate stereotypes are, right?  One thing everyone did look is tired.  I smiled to everyone not because I had to but because I was so happy to be a part of this event and to actually be helping!  I got smiles back my way!

Native American...

On The Information Super Highway

What did I actually do at the event?

  • Retyped someone’s entire resume from paper into electronic format
  • Worked with a guest to recreate his entire resume memory and Google
  • Planned walking and bus routes to shelters and the MN Job center for guest
  • Looked up a Union in St. Paul for a guest
  • Printed resumes from a flash drive for a guest
  • Created 2 gmail accounts for 2 guests
  • Helped a guest submit her unemployment benefits form
  • Dialed an older guest call his sister and sister-in-law in Florida
  • Supported a guest as she waited to make her call about safe housing
  • and all sorts of stuff in between

I heard HCMC was responsible for the hardware and setup of the Internet Cafe and I give them a big thank you!  The one problem we experienced was with the printer.  It looks like it was mapped back to a different subnet so printing took a very, very long time (3 minutes for 1 page of text, 25 minutes for a full page photo).

Next time, I am going to suggest there are more structured activities on the computer so people can take advantage of doing things they don’t normally do (and I already did suggest this through the SurveyMonkey form we all filled out after the event).

Homeless and Cold

The Warm Fuzzies

So as I helped folks, some said nice things to me!  One guy said, “How’d you do that?” when I was able to find the name of the nursing home he worked at in Illinois from just a street.  I took time to step back through the process of my boolean search, how I used the results to narrow the search and finally Google maps to identify the possible solutions.

Another man said, “You know, I know a lot about the internet but you showed me some new things today on Google”.  He was talking about Google street view and Google’s NEW ability to plan routes via public transportation.

Homeless @ Haeundae Beach

After The Event

How to help now?  This event is held twice a year in Minneapolis.  I’m not sure how often St. Paul does it.  I am going to contact Goodwill Easter Seals about volunteering now because I am certain I enjoy teaching technology and I want to continue to give.  I have the time as well since I work for myself.

The other way to continue this is to donate to Project Homeless Connect Minneapolis.  Since it’s 100% volunteer based, no salaries are paid out.  Even the accountant volunteers.  This means that 100% of donations get put to work where it counts; not lost to administrative “costs” ie ineffective, inefficient, unreceptive, unresponsive staff.

Another is to get your company involved.  Here is a list of contributors who either gave time or money to this event.  Places like the Basilica of St. Mary, College of St. Catherine, Golden Plump Poultry, Faegre and Benson LLP, Starbucks, Target, Thrivent Financial, SYSCO Minnesota and Wesley United Methodist Church.  Wowza!

RIP Homeless person

What If We Don’t Help?

Sooner or later, everyone needs help from someone else.  The time to teach compassion is when the opportunity presents itself.  Children who grow up understanding what it feels like to give rather than take will benefit from this big picture view.  Force, shame and guilt don’t work.  Encouragement, patience and forgiveness are the tools that can take you beyond the world of materialism.

My First YouTube Video

So I’ve been talking about doing videos and getting a webcam for two months.  Everything had to be “perfect” before I started.  Well today I just did it.  My car did not like the subzero cold and died on me.  My mechanic will be looking at it tomorrow but it really got me to thinking about what it would be like to try and survive without a home.  I walked a few blocks to find a cab and two of my fingers are still a bit numb.  One of the guests I helped had frostbite on his ear and my heart went out to him because I cannot even imagine not being able to get inside at night to stay warm.

I dedicate this first video of mine to the people out there just getting by and know that my prayers are with you.



This entry was posted in Freetime, The Big Picture, Videos I made, YouTube and tagged on by .

About Adria Richards

Adria Richards is a developer and entrepreneur focused on digital equality. She has worked in the tech industry since 1998 solving big problems for companies of all sizes. Embracing her inner nerd, Adria moved moved to San Francisco in 2010 to pursue her passion for technology. Previously she has worked in technical and training roles for enterprise, nonprofits and startups; from Apple to Zendesk. Adria is a popular speaker and gives talks about culture, communication and diversity. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, yoga and bacon; not necessarily at that order. Her Twitter account is followed by President @BarackObama.

7 thoughts on “My Volunteer Experience With Project Homeless Connect Minneapolis

  1. Ari Thom

    Wow, Adria, what a heartfelt video, thanks! How nice that it isn’t slick. I am very grateful for my local homeless connect, and for folks who care. Thank you for making a difference.

  2. Joan

    Great post and great video, thanks for sharing your experience. Have you continued to volunteer for Project Homeless Connect? I did for the first time in May 2009 – I had mixed feelings at the end of the day . . . did I help my two guests? Why didn’t my homeless son attend? I was tired, glad I volunteered and will do so again in December 2009.

  3. Adria Richards


    Yes, I volunteered this May again and had a blast! I still need to blog about it. Have you participated in one of the events? It started in San Francisco but is now nationwide to help people who are homeless or losing their housing

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