Volunteers are gearing up for the first ever St. John Project Homeless Connect, set for this Friday, October 21, at the Nazareth Lutheran Church starting at 9 a.m.
The event is designed to be a one-day, one-stop program to provide services from showers to haircuts for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
While similar events have been hosted on St. Thomas and St. Croix, this week’s Project Homeless Connect will be the first of its kind on St. John. The program is being hosted by the Department of Human Services, Innovative and the United Way with much of the St. John effort being handled by the St. John Community Foundation’s Celia Kalousek.
The national program was originally launched in San Francisco in 2004 and today Project Homeless Connect events are hosted across the country. The event focuses on connecting homeless persons with essential services in a non-threatening environment; offering services, support and quality of life resources in a dignified environment.
United Way has spearheaded the program for the past five years on St. Thomas and St. Croix and decided to launch a Project Homeless Connect on St. John after being contacted by Innovative.
“We have been doing Project Homeless Connect for the past five years in collaboration with Department of Human Services on St. Thomas and St. Croix,” said Cherise Creque-Quain, executive director of United Way Virgin Islands. “This year in conversations with Innovative, who is one of our large corporate donors, they wanted to do a special day with their employees. We talked about how doing a Project Homeless Connect on St. John would be something to fit into their special day.”
“They decided to partner with us and be a sponsor for the day of caring for the Project Homeless Connect on St. John,” said Creque-Quain.
Organizers have already been meeting to plan the day, but it’s still not too late to get involved. The program will offer breakfast and lunch to individuals taking part and donations of food are welcome. Volunteer escorts, who will help people take advantage of all of the available services, are also still needed as well as donations of men’s clothing, explained Kalousek.
“During the last homeless count on St. John, we had 45 documented homeless and 40 of those people were men,” she said. “We really need donations of men’s clothing. We also need compassionate people who can escort people from service to service with respect and dignity.”
There are two volunteer training sessions this week for Project Homeless Connect. Anyone interested in volunteering for the program should meet at the Nazareth Lutheran Hall on Monday, October 17, at 2 p.m. or Thursday, October 20, at 6:30 p.m.
Homelessness is more of a problem on St. John than most people realize, Kalousek added.
“In January there was another homeless count organized by HUD,” she said. “The previous count was in 2009 and a total of 26 homeless individuals were identified. Now just two years later the number of documented homeless has increased to 45, and that does not include the hidden homeless and the individuals who are teetering on the edge of homelessness.”
“I know a lot of people who are one medical accident and two pay checks away from being homeless,” said Kalousek. “The Project Homeless Connect gives people a chance to learn what is out there for people they know or for themselves.”
Volunteers, barbers, and masseuses are needed to help facilitate this activity. Training for volunteers will be at the Nazareth Lutheran Church hall on Monday, October 17, at 2 p.m. and again on Thursday, October 20, at 6:30 p.m.
Anyone interested in volunteering or providing a service should call Kalousek at the St. John Community Foundation at 643-0019 or 693-9410.