Volunteers honored the biblical teaching that the last shall be first at the 5th Annual Project Homeless Connect at the Rudolph Shultebrandt Agricultural Complex Friday. The homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless were treated to a wide range of services, from medical screenings to massages, as part of an effort to build stronger bonds between those in need and those in a position to help.
Culinary students from the Educational Complex Technical School were on hand serving a lavish lunch of fish, seasoned rice, macaroni and cheese, and pizza. Not far from them, people were crowded around a row of barbers’ chairs waiting for a free trim. Inside one of the barns, nurses were checking glucose levels and blood pressure, while others were administering flu shots, prostate exams, and HIV tests.
In a small stand, Dr. Denise Colbert was providing dental screenings. She said she had been working with the homeless community for 16 years through the Department of Health, but when their dental program was closed earlier this year, she started volunteering with Frederiksted Health Care, Inc. She eagerly informed clients about the organization’s recently opened dental clinic in Christiansted.
“We’re fully operational,” she said. “And we’re all looking to continue to expand. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to provide the entire island with services whether it be self-pay, full-pay, sliding scale, or Medicaid.”
Colbert, who has a private orthodontia practice, said she has always had a strong interest in public health, and that educating the public and serving the less fortunate was her true passion.
“If I didn’t have to work to pay my bills and take care of my kids, I could just do this full time,” she said.
Word about the event was spread by several charity organizations over the course of the last few weeks. Soup kitchens in Christiansted and Frederiksted agreed to shut down Friday and direct their clients to the event. The Department of Human Services organized bus pick-ups for the homeless and transported them to the fairgrounds.
Brenda Charles, manager of the Catholic Charities kitchen in Christiansted, said her clients looked forward to the event every year.
“It’s a day of caring for them where they touch base with everything,” she said. “They can get a haircut, they can get their eyes checked, they can get their teeth checked, and they can also get appointments to get their food stamps and everything, so it’s a very special day for them.”
Charles said it was also an opportunity for them to just catch up with old friends in a fun environment and unwind.
The event wasn’t just a field day, however. Angeli Ferdschneider, a member of the Inter Agency Council on Homelessness and the Governor’s staff, said the event provided the government with valuable information about the homeless population.
Every client was guided through an intake procedure in which personal information was gathered that will be fed into the Homeless Management Information System. That database provides the territory with statistics on homelessness and helps identify trends and possible solutions.
It also helps the territory attract federal assistance, Ferschneider said. The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires such tracking for many of its grant programs.
Ferdschneider also said the event was a day to build bonds, not just between the homeless and aid agencies, but also between the various government entities and charities working on the front lines of the fight against homelessness. The day is a reminder to volunteers that they are not fighting alone and an opportunity to learn from one another.
Still, Ferdschneider admitted that the most satisfying part of the event was seeing the homeless have a day off from their worries and spend time amongst friends.
“They are a community unto themselves,” she said. “They look out for each other as family. And it’s really heartwarming to see that they come today and they’re happy. Their other days may not be as good, but today they come out and there’s a special kind of brother and sisterhood.”