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Homeless people from the Baltimore area lined up for financial advice at the United Way's fourth annual Project Homeless Connect on Thursday.

United Way event offers financial assistance to the homeless

Imagine wanting to deposit a check but losing 25 percent of that money to bank fees, or getting an ID stolen and being unable to open a bank account. Those challenges are a reality for the thousands of homeless people in and around Baltimore who came to the United Way of Central Maryland’s fourth annual Project Homeless Connect event on Thursday.

“We want to get across the importance of having a bank account,” said Agnes Arnold, community development specialist at Eastern Savings Bank.

The Hunt Valley bank along with Wells Fargo, PNC and some nonprofits were at Thursday’s event to teach the homeless about financial literacy.

“A lot of people in this situation feel they shouldn’t have a bank account,” said Brad Hollandsworth, personal banker at Wells Fargo.

Hollandsworth met with two people eligible to open bank accounts and planned to reach out to at least a dozen more people after the event.

The bank helps set up checking accounts for people getting direct deposits for disability or Social Security.

People often come to Hollandsworth saying they are not getting their Social Security checks because they do not have a mailing address, which is needed to open a bank account, along with a valid photo ID.

“A lot of people aren’t getting Social Security benefits,” said Hollandsworth.

Every year, the United Way event provides a range of services, from medical exams and haircuts to housing information and legal assistance. This year’s event also included vision services.

The most sought-after service at the annual event is issuing of IDs, such as non-driver’s license identification and birth certificates, said Danielle Hogan, the United Way chapter’s marketing director.

The line to get an ID at the Baltimore Convention Center on Thursday was at least 50 people long by noon.

“Getting the right ID is an obstacle for people to get a bank account,” said Arnold, who was also handing out attack whistles with her colleagues at the Eastern Bank table. “It’s how do you help with the simple things,” she said.

The biggest financial challenges homeless people face include lack of knowledge, misused accounts and unpaid bills, said J.P Russell, vice president and branch manager at PNC Bank’s East Pratt Street office.

Arnold said the bank was seeing a higher volume of people this year compared to past events, having spoken to 75 people by noon and expecting to speak to several hundred by the end of the day.

“I tell people, they have to find a bank that’s local,” said Arnold. “It’s best to deal face-to-face.”