Mark those calenders for this Monday, September 19, for the chance to help make a difference in the lives of many St. John residents.
Several organizations are coming together to host Love City’s first Project Homeless Connect, set for October 21. Organizers are hosting a planning meeting on September 19, from 12 to 2:30 p.m. at the Westin Resort and Villas to hear from the community about where to host the event and what specific services to offer, explained St. John Community Foundation executive director Celia Kalousek, who is helping to plan the event.
Locally, Project Homeless Connect is a collaboration between the Department of Human Services, Innovative and United Way. The event is designed to be a one-day, one-stop program to provide services to people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
The 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, explained Kalousek.
“The national and local goal is to end homelessness,” she said. “The event is community-led, and client- and outcome-oriented.”
The event is not new to the territory. The United Way and DHS have been hosting Project Homeless Connect for four years on St. Thomas and St. Croix. The October 21 event, however, will be the first of its kind hosted on St. John.
“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.
Innovative is one of the first of United Way’s corporate sponsors to spearhead an entire Project Homeless Connect event, Creque-Quain added.
Organizers are hoping to hear from the St. John community and get residents involved in the project as well, explained Creque-Quain.
“For St. John we are trying to get the community to come out and help plan what they would like their day of caring for the homeless to look like,” she said. “We hope to draw a lot of people to our strategic planning meeting to get volunteers and build teams and figure out the logistics of the event. We really want this to be a community effort.”
“On St. Thomas and St. Croix, the event is planned by the community with no one dictating when or who the event will be run by,” said the United Way director. “Instead we all go through suggestions and find solutions to our challenges and put together something that will work specifically for the community.”
The day is also an opportunity to raise awareness about the plight of homeless persons on St. John, Creque-Quain explained.
“We want to inform the community about what is going on and how we can help and not abandon our fellow human beings,” she said.
The problem is bigger than most people think on Love City; with the number of homeless on the island almost doubling over the past two years, according to Kalousek.
“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 are needed to help plan the day, make donations of clothing, food and more and to help out the day of the event, explained Kalousek.
“For it to be a success here we need people to help out with everything from providing services to donating clothing, time and more,” she said. “A big thing we need are escorts to actually walk people through the event from one service to the next. We need compassionate people to help them out and guide them along way in a dignified way.”
For more information about Project Homeless Connect be sure to attend the planning meeting on Monday, September 19, from 12 to 2:30 p.m. at the Westin Resort and Villas ballroom.
Kalousek will be picking up meeting attendees from the 11 a.m. ferry in Cruz Bay for anyone who needs a ride to the meeting.