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UVI Turns Into One-Stop Caring Shop for Homeless

Oct. 17, 2008 — Everybody won at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center Friday, as hundreds in the community came together for the second Project Homeless Connect.
There were no teams — everyone was in it together in this joint effort of United Way of St. Thomas-St. John and the Department of Human Services.
Kim Moholland, United Way president, looked over the folks teeming into the gym, sometimes a bit hesitantly, but all accompanied by a volunteer escort. "This is our second year," Moholland said. "We're hoping more come this year. Those who were here last year told their friends they had missed out."
The clients first fill out paperwork giving some indication of their needs before a volunteer escorts them. The sheer number of services offered boggled the mind, ranging from a haircut, massage, blood sugar and cholesterol testing, flu shots, legal services, financial, employment and vision care as well as showers, breakfast and lunch.
The volunteers span all ages and backgrounds. Jill Anderson brought 15 of her students from the Schneider Hospital LPN program. "They're from 17 to 60 years old," she said, "and they are doing everything, not only medical needs." As if on cue, student nurse Jettanyia Gumbs came up to Anderson. "I've just finished taking a very nice lady around," she said. "We went to vision care, we went to the clothing shop and she got some new shoes and a purse, and she got her hair cut."
She smiled. "It just feels so good to help."
That feeling permeated the gym. "That's what this is all about," said Cherise Creque, UW executive director. "I think we got more use of the services this time. Last year they mainly wanted food and clothing. They were a little gun shy. This time, I think they knew they could trust us, that we are really there to help them."
Dr. Celia Victor, of Human Services and United Way, was busy helping a blond, curly-headed young man from St. John get his food stamps renewed. "He lost his card in July," she said. "He really needs some help," She shook her head with a smile, "and he's so cute, too."
Masseuse Beth Benta had a steady line up for massages, which she also did last year. Teri Pearsall, of Love's Dream Balanced Energy worked next to Benta. "This is my first time," Pearsall said, "Beth brought me."
Likely the busiest provider of all Friday was first-time volunteer Annette Zachman, owner of Monicas' Hair Studio in Crown Bay, who cut more than 30 heads of hair. Speaking later, she said, "It was overwhelming, fantastic — I didn't even have lunch."
"It was so energizing to make a difference," she said. "What you give is what you get. I love having people do nice things for me and it's an honor to this for them. I wish I could have done more. Next year I'll bring another person."
Zachman said most of her clients were men, and her last client was a Rastafarian. "He had locks down to his tailbone," she said, "and he said to take them off. I asked if he wanted to keep them, and he held out a bag." She laughed.
Creque and Moholland were pleased, if exhausted, at the end of the long day. They had about the same number of clients as last year, Creque said, but the important number is the units of services provided from all. They included: 20 dental, 51 massages, 18 legal services, 30 haircuts, 45 flu shots, 50 eye screenings and 29 cholesterol checks. "The whole intent is to connect every client as well as every provider, to prevent duplication of services," she said.
Moholland said, "It's not meant to be a one-day thing. We are trying to get across as many services as we can, but we can't offer housing. Our ultimate goal is to actually alleviate homeless in the next 10 years. Project Homeless Connect is a national movement. We have the support of Christopher Finch, Human Services commissioner, and the governor."
Switching channels, Moholland emphasized, "None of this could have happened today without Catholic Charities, Dial-A-Ride and the Salvation Army who brought everybody here, even nine from St. John."
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