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Project Homeless Connect Will Offer Services, Outreach

Oct. 13, 2008 — Volunteers are needed Friday for the island's second Project Homeless Connect, an all-out, one-day community effort working directly with the homeless population to give them hands-on help.
This year's program will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. The first such project last year was a big success, according to Cherise Creque, United Way executive director.
It was "one of the most powerful things our community has done as partners," she said. "It is truly a grassroots effort to let out clients know we love them. We care and want to help them get a step up out of their scenario. It's a wonderful thing."
UW co-sponsors the day with the Department of Human Services, other government agencies, not-for-profits and a number of private businesses, which donate time and services offering everything from massages to financial-planning advice.
"We have the WIC program (a federal nutrition program for women, infants and children), Medicare advice, and we have students nurses from Schneider Hospital and UVI," Creque said.
Last year's Project Homeless Connect generated a lot of enthusiasm.
"We now have people who see that it is a great event, and they are sending more donations and services," Creque said.
Volunteers with current health cards are needed to serve breakfast and lunch to those in need of a good meal. To find other volunteer opportunities, call United Way at 774-3185.
Students have signed up from local high schools, public and private, as well as UVI, Creque said. Along with serving food, volunteers lead folks around to the services they may need.
"A large part of the homeless population is actually eligible for many government services, such as food stamps and health care," said Monifa Stout, Human Services public information officer, at last year's event. "But many just don't know, and we don't know either, unless they come and talk to us. So we have representatives out here actually getting people signed up for the food stamp program and offering some of the other services they can use to start re their life."
Organizers are capitalizing on last year's experience.
"We changed the venue," Creque said. "Lionel Roberts Stadium was cost-prohibitive with the tents and generators we had to set up. The UVI center has electricity and an indoor location to offer convenient showers, haircuts and massages, as well as spots for booths offering services such as food stamp information or employment opportunities."
Organizers have gotten positive feedback from the 2007 event.
"We have many success stories from last year — stories from rehab experiences to jobs," Creque said. "Those are all confidential, of course."
What's not confidential is the enormous outpouring from the community offering help this year.
"We have free flu shots this year, along with pediatric advice, mental-health assistance, vision care, blood-sugar testing and dental screening," Creque said.
The local Red Cross has donated hygiene kits.
"Also, we have lots of clothing, which will be displayed on hangars, according to size," Creque said.
Transportation to and from UVI will be provided by Catholic Charities, Dial-A-Ride and the Salvation Army's mobile food van.
For a look at last year's project, see "Homeless Members of Community get Free Services at Day of Caring."
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