ST. PETERSBURG — A busload is coming from Orlando. A handful will fly from the Virgin Islands. A caravan will bring others from Georgia.
Saturday morning, 60 doctors, 70 nurses and other health professionals will converge on St. Petersburg's historic Coliseum to donate a day of free medical screening to the homeless in Pinellas County.
The free screening will be one element of a broad program being offered this weekend to people down on their luck. Project Homeless Connect, an offshoot of a national effort, is designed to provide dignified assistance in a one-stop setting.
"The intent is to connect people with services so they can become housed and stable," said Sarah Snyder, executive director of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless.
The seven-hour event, to be held inside the Coliseum and under tents on its grounds, will offer services ranging from blood pressure checks and vaccinations to haircuts, shampoos and Florida IDs. Advocates for the homeless also will use the occasion to conduct the county's annual count of those without shelter.
Volunteers are preparing to assist at least 1,200 people, among them families and veterans. First organized locally by the city of St. Petersburg and the Homeless Coalition in 2007, this year's event is a collaboration of groups that include the city, Pinellas County Health and Human Services, the Homeless Coalition and the Salvation Army.
"It's a huge community event," Snyder said.
Each person or family will be paired with a volunteer guide. Some 900 volunteers have been recruited for the event. The volunteers are being coordinated by Bay Pines VA Medical Center employees Derenda McCook and Edgardo Solivan. The two have turned to local members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for assistance, having been impressed by their previous day of service at Bay Pines.
"They are assisting me with the coordination," Solivan said.
"They are my captains out there helping to move the troops around. We want to make sure everybody gets served."
Pinellas Park resident Maureen Hesse will be one of the volunteers from the Mormon church. She will supervise the "giveaway station," the point where those who go to the Coliseum for help will end their day.
"Each person, no matter what the age, they are going to get a sleeping bag as well as a goodie bag, essentially of toiletries," said Hesse, a supervisor at Raymond James.
Snyder said 82 organizations are expected Saturday, including hair stylists. St. Petersburg will allow water from its fire hydrants to be used for shampoos, she said. The St. Petersburg Bicycle Club will repair bikes and distribute helmets. Help will be provided for filling out census forms. Those who attend the event also will be able to sign up for food stamps and other benefits, get information about vocational training and receive legal aid. Additionally, they'll be able to sign up for free community voice mail through 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares. Free breakfast and lunch will be provided by the Salvation Army.
This weekend's medical screening will be done primarily by members of the Sathya Sai Baba organization, an international spiritual group whose members offer free medical camps around the world. St. Petersburg oncologist Geetha Kamath has been coordinating the dozens of local and visiting professionals who will participate in the homeless project Saturday.
Kamath said 66 medical booths will be staffed by experts in family medicine, pediatrics, smoking cessation, cardiology, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and psychiatry. St. Anthony's Hospital is helping with the labs, she said.
"Medicine for the rich people is wonderful. We want to do the same thing for the homeless," she said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected].