A little help for the homeless goes a long way | NevadaAppeal.com

A little help for the homeless goes a long way

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer

Perhaps the best sign that the second annual Carson City Homeless Connect day is working, is the fact that two volunteers were people seeking help this time last year.

The day, put on by staff of Carson City Health and Human Services and about 20 volunteers from the community, was an opportunity for homeless residents to get free health care, legal advice and job counseling as well as a meal, a hygiene kit and information about which organizations around town can assist the needy back onto the road to self-sufficiency.

“We look around at the people who come in and it’s a case of hopefully they get the message that there is help for them – and not just today,” said Francis Ashley, a case manager for health and human services. “About 95 percent of the people we see are families, so that says something. It says people are moving here, but often working jobs that underpay, something goes wrong and next thing, they’re on the street.”

Shelly Figueroa is one such real-time example of Ashley’s hypothetical.

In and out of what she calls “terminal abusive situations,” last February Figueroa, a mother of two, decided it was time to break the pattern for good.

She sought help and respite with the city’s health and human services department and now considers herself, “a total turnaround – a complete success story.”

“Inside these white walls, it’s so special,” she said. “But the thing is, you can’t come in here and not want to make a change. I see people coming in today, looking for help, and maybe they’ll get it – maybe they’ll get what they need for the day.

“What I want to do is shake them and say, ‘c’mon – come play with me, let me show you the way, the right way. Don’t go back out there. All the help you need, it’s right here.'”

Figueroa, who said she saw “several familiar faces” come into the building at 900 E. Long St. on Saturday seeking help, said the best pitch she could give is for those in need to “look right in front of them.”

“All it takes for me is to look at my kids smile,” she said. “There were so many nights when I missed that, when I was thinking about so many things besides them. You get on the right path and that’s the first thing to come back, to keep you going.”

Evan Weinper, a Las Vegas expatriate, said he woke up last November, just months after moving to Carson, and couldn’t walk.

The former competitive weightlifter said his knees were shot. Self-employed, he had no insurance and could not pay for what he saw as mounting medical bills and ultimately, surgery.

“I went to every doctor in town, they could see I couldn’t walk, but it was like, ‘sorry no insurance, we can’t help you,'” he said. “Finally, I came to (health and human services), they made one phone call and here I am – a success story.”

Weinper was able to find a local orthopedist, Dr. Richard Long, through the support of a local Wells Fargo branch as well as the city’s health and human services department- he got knee surgery and was able to start a new car-detailing and power-washing business.

“I’m here, I can walk and that’s a testament to the folks who’ve helped me,” he said. “I owe so much. I see some of these people, they walk in and you can just see they want to change their lives, but they don’t know how.

“I can honestly say, ‘one phone call – that’s all it takes.'”

By noon Saturday case managers had helped about 30 Carson residents. Volunteer Ann Ward, an intern for Northern Nevada Hopes, an AIDS/HIV outreach nonprofit, said participants had yet to ask for a free HIV test – but many stopped by for information.

“Many got hygiene and condom kits,” she said. “It’s a start. This is a great day to be visible in the community. We hope if they see us once, they’ll be back.”

Medical staff, who was treating a homeless man who simply went by the name “Tim,” whose feet were badly infected, reflected the attitude of the volunteers for the day.

“Honestly, you couldn’t bring us enough people,” said Kelly Dory, a registered nurse from Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center. “I volunteered a year ago, and it’s just something, if you’re a part of the community, you’re going to want to do.

“Yes, I think we should do these more often. And I’m going to try to clear up some time to volunteer during the week. A little help for these people can go a long, long way.”

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com