Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Volunteers turn out in droves for Project Homeless Connect

Project Homeless Connect (PHC) turned DU’s Gates Field House into a one-stop shop for resources for the homeless on April 20. Some 525 homeless people showed up to get help with services that included health care, housing, job searches and on-site interviews, haircuts, food stamps and access to other benefits. More than 900 University of Denver students, faculty and staff turned out to volunteer, with many working one-on-one with homeless individuals and families, helping them access services.

More than 100 cities around the country host PHC events in an effort to end chronic homelessness, but this was the first time such a program was hosted by a university, said Philip Mangano, executive director the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, who spoke at the event.

During the event, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper thanked the University for its partnership with the city and its commitment to help end homelessness. He gave Chancellor Bob Coombe a proclamation announcing that April 20 is officially “DU Volunteer Day in Denver Day.”

Graduate School of Social Work Office Manager and PHC volunteer Jennifer Ratico worked with a middle-aged man who’d been homeless for several years.

“He told me that he didn’t expect to get more than a sandwich out of this, but he left with shoes, socks, underwear, food and a legal referral for help with Social Security issues,” Ratico says, noting that he even was able to clear up his tickets at a Homeless Court held at DU’s Sturm College of Law.

The city began hosting PHC events in December 2005 through a partnership between the Mile High United Way and Denver’s Road Home, the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. The University joined in following the annual Provost’s Conference in October 2006, hosted by DU Provost Gregg Kvistad. At the conference, University officials explored ways to more formally join research and service efforts with the city’s agenda and identified homelessness as a key area for collaboration. In the months leading up to the event, DU faculty members have undertaken projects that utilize PHC as a research opportunity; they’ll continue to contribute to Denver’s Road Home for several months.

“In addition to providing facilities for Project Homeless Connect, DU is proud to assist the City of Denver and Mile High United Way with important research conducted by our faculty,” Kvistad says.

In January, DU designated $25,000 in grant money for research projects specifically dedicated to the homelessness initiative. Researchers monitoring the attitudinal change among volunteers conducted pre-event surveys when they registered to participate. Volunteers will also receive a post-event survey. Another study will ask participants and volunteers to help determine what about PHC works well and what should be changed. Yet another study will focus on health care savings as it relates to PHC.

“When a lot of people think about DU being connected to the community, they don’t think about the homeless community,” Ratico says. “It’s especially important that a university like DU reaches out into a community that would be overlooked and show that they really care.”

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