Volunteers needed for Project Homeless Connect
By Lori Szepelak
SPRINGFIELD -- Seven hundred volunteers are needed this fall for Project Homeless Connect Springfield, according to event organizers.
The one-day, one-stop offering of services for homeless individuals or those at risk of homelessness, is planned Sept. 29 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the MassMutual Center.
Project Homeless Connect is a national best practice model that originated in San Francisco in 2004 and aims to provide easy access to services that support the transition of the area's homeless off the streets and into housing.
Doreen Fadus, director of the Community Health Department at Mercy Medical Center, and Pastor Greg Dyson of the Church in the Acres in Springfield, are serving as co-chairs of this year's event. Now in its third year, Springfield is among 11 cities across the country participating in this year's national project.
Gerry McCafferty, acting director of Springfield's Office of Housing, is also assisting Fadus and Dyson in their efforts to rally the Greater Springfield community to become either a one-on-one volunteer for the day or a team leader who will help 25 volunteers as well as volunteer as a host/advocate for the day. In addition, service providers and businesses are encouraged to be a part of the daylong event.
"This year we are depending on area churches to encourage their congregants to serve as advocates for the day with the guests that will attend the Sept. 29 event," Dyson said during an interview with Reminder Publications.
Fadus noted that she is working closely with her Community Health Department staff, which encompasses the Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) program, to organize the medical and mental component of the event.
"The HCH staff will gain support from over 30 vendors who will provide primary care, health education, health screenings, mental education and hands-on care," Fadus said.
McCafferty, the city's point person on homeless issues, noted that on any given day, there are about 400 homeless single individuals in the region, with approximately 210 residing in Springfield. In addition, McCafferty noted there are about 250 homeless families in the area, and half of these are in the city.
"The rate of family homelessness has been rising at an alarming rate," McCafferty said. "It's important to know that many individuals and families come into and out of homelessness."
McCafferty explained that the average length of homelessness is 30 days, so the number of individuals and families who experience homelessness over the course of a year is much higher.
"Project Homeless Connect harnesses our city's strengths -- caring people and a sense of community -- to extend assistance to those in our community who are less fortunate," McCafferty said. "By doing so, we tell those less fortunate people that we care about them -- a message that can be extraordinarily helpful to getting their lives back on track."
Fadus echoed those sentiments.
"Residents should support this endeavor because it is a great way for the community to come together and reach out to every member in the city," Fadus said. "It is also a new way of thinking in providing services in a collaborative manner and also reaching for measurable goals at the end of the day."
Fadus stressed that this event is a new way of doing business, focused on immediacy, hospitality, and results for homeless neighbors.
Persons and organizations interested in assisting guests are asked to contact Chris Abro, volunteer coordinator, at 539-8406, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
; for those who would like more information on the event, contact McCafferty via e-mail at email@example.com
"Volunteers have told me that participation in Project Homeless Connect has changed their lives," McCafferty added.
Donations will also be graciously accepted for the event, according to McCafferty.
"A great deal of our budget ($15,000) goes to direct assistance for people who are homeless," she said, noting that vital tools including paying for the cost of new copies of birth certificates and identification cards are essential for anyone trying to get out of homelessness.
"It is also our goal to help as many people as possible move into housing through the event, so we try to raise money to help pay for security deposits," she added.
Anyone wishing to make a monetary donation can send a check to the United Way of Pioneer Valley Inc., 184 Mill St., Springfield, MA 01108. Donors are asked to write "Project Homeless Connect" in the memo line on the check.
In-kind donations of food, backpacks or other giveaways for guests are also welcome and for more information on how to make those donations, contact McCafferty via e-mail.