There's the crisis on Wall Street, the economic downturn on Main Street, and then there's Rice Street in St. Paul, where Darren Beckom used to live.

Beckom, 45, lost his house in the 1200 block to foreclosure in September. Now he is homeless.

He was one of about 2,000 poor and homeless people seeking help Monday at Project Homeless Connect, a semi-annual event at the Minneapolis Convention Center that brings together a huge range of service providers, from medical to legal to housing organizations. The event is sponsored by Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis. This is the sixth Project Homeless Connect event since 2005

"It is always kind of upsetting because there's never enough help," said Penny Cantazaro, who sat behind a table in one section of the Convention Center and fielded a continual stream of inquiries from homeless people who were looking for a place to stay other than a homeless shelter. "It's only gotten worse since the foreclosure problem," she said. She is an outreach specialist for HousingLink, which lists affordable housing on its website.

The number of families in Hennepin County shelters totaled 880 in the first seven months of 2008, up 25 percent from the same period last year, said Cathy ten Broeke, coordinator of the Office to End Homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County, which puts on Project Homeless Connect. She blames the increase on the worsening economy, including the rise in unemployment and the surge of foreclosures. She said 10 percent of the families in local shelters were victims of foreclosures, most of them renters whose landlords lost buildings to foreclosures.

"Making matters worse, families who were foreclosed on are now flooding the rental market, tightening up vacancies and increasing rents," she said. "The lowest-income families and individuals just can't compete."

Running out of options

Beckom said he was unable to pay his subprime mortgage after he was laid off from his job. His wife and kids have moved to her mother's house in Illinois and Beckom lives at the House of Charity in Minneapolis while he looks for work.

"We need housing and jobs," he said. "It's real bad. I'm depressed."

Roxanne Feather, 26, had an 8-month-old son with her; she said she was stressed out because she faced eviction for nonpayment of rent. She said she was robbed on the street and her rent money stolen. "Me and my kids may be out on the street tonight, for all I know," she said.

People lined up for help from lawyers on a wide range of issues. Tina Scott, 46, said she lost her job as a legal secretary when she almost had a nervous breakdown. She and two of her children are sleeping on sofas in a friend's house in Richfield, while she works at a deli.

She can't find an apartment because of two previous evictions, which she blames on her ex who didn't pay the bills. She sought legal advice on expunging court actions filed against her for nonpayment of rent. Lawyers told her it was unlikely they could be expunged.

"It's very depressing," said Scott of her living situation. "It doesn't make you want to get up and go to work."

Mammograms now offered

Project Homeless Connect was clearly making a difference for some people. For the first time this year, it was offering mammograms. Janet Martin, 47, who has bipolar illness, lives in a shelter and did not realize she was supposed to start getting mammograms when she was 40. On Monday, after an exam, she was having her first mammogram.

Jeff Hodges, 39, said he had a "throbbing" pain in a tooth for three weeks. He was being helped by dentists who were working on people throughout the day.

Russell Brown, 40, who lives in a homeless shelter, was hunting for housing. He said he is bipolar and can't work. On top of it, he has been unable to find anyone to rent to him because of a felony conviction in South Dakota, where he used to live.

Still, he said, he got leads from staff at Project Homeless Connect tables. "There's a lot of nice people," he said.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382