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Homeless Members of Community Get Free Services at Day of Caring

Nov. 16, 2007 — From massages and haircuts to free HIV screenings, a wide array of organizations and services were made accessible Friday to the territory's homeless population, which turned out in large numbers to participate in this year's Project Homeless Connect: A Day of Caring, held at Lionel Roberts Stadium on St. Thomas.
For the day, participants were referred to as "clientele" and ushered around to a variety of booths littering the outskirts of the field ground. Upon entering the stadium, clients were also asked to fill out some paperwork, telling volunteers as much about themselves as they could think of.
"During this intake process, our clients also tell us what they are interested in doing today," explained Monife Stout, public information officer for the Department of Human Services, which co-sponsored the event with the United Way of St. Thomas-St.John. "After that, they are given an escort, who walks around with them and takes them through the various activities. The point is giving them each some personal attention."
Many participants took eagerly to filling out the paperwork with a little help from organizers, said event volunteer Julicia Jackson.
"What we want to get from each individual is as much information as they know or can remember," Jackson said. "That makes it easier for us to help take them through some of the things we have out here today. Some have said that the paperwork is a little too much, so some of the volunteers have been sitting down and assisting them over breakfast, or a snack."
After making it through the first step, escorts and their clients were free to move around the field, where booths were organized by category: personal services, social services and medical services. On one side, a booth with massage chairs was a favorite throughout the day, while another stall containing clothes and shoes for both children and adults also drew a crowd. Behind the booths were showers and portable bathrooms, where participants could change clothes.
Representatives from several of the territory's non-profit organizations lined another side of the field, eager and ready to help. Government agencies such as Human Services and the Department of Labor were also mixed into the bunch, offering written information and hands-on counseling upon request.
"A large part of the homeless population are actually eligible for many government services, such as food stamps and health care," Stout said. "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-shaping their life."
Rounding out the list of community groups — which also included Catholic Charities and Dial-A-Ride — was the Salvation Army, whose new mobile food van was being put to good use.
"We're out here offering water, cola, donuts and cookies to everyone," said Major Federico Craig, officer in charge of the Salvation Army. "And it's a really wonderful experience — one that should be done a lot more, maybe at least two times a year instead of just once."
The van came online in May and will soon be making the rounds on Thanksgiving, working like a mobile soup kitchen, Craig said.
Many volunteers echoed Craig's sentiments throughout the day, saying more effort should be put into helping the territory's homeless.
"This island is only 32 square miles — there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to combat our homelessness problem," said Richard Gomez, who manages the Bethlehem House shelter on St. Thomas. "Events like these are great, but they need to be extended throughout the year. And we need more families to get involved, to help out their loved ones who are suffering. Many of our homeless population are mentally ill or have drug addictions — family members can step in there and get them to the kinds of services they need."
Getting participants to network with various businesses and community organizations was one of the primary purposes behind the event, said Human Services Commissioner Chris Finch. He added that private businesses and government organizations were also able to work alongside one another, and get a better understanding of exactly what types of services are available to the local community.
"It's really gratifying to see how this event came together after months of planning," he added. "It really allows us get out there and help. And of course, the success of the event can be measured later on, when we've seen exactly what we were able to do, and how many individuals took advantage of the kind of services we're offering today."
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