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DU volunteers help the homeless

Volunteer reads to homeless child

DU staffers Maggie Schaeffer (left) and Erin Chalmers were among 900 University volunteers who helped at Project Homeless Connect. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The University of Denver provided 525 homeless people with resources April 20 as part of Project Homeless Connect, a program that’s been hosted around the country in an effort to end chronic homelessness.

DU was the first university to host such a program, according to Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Some 900 DU students, staff, faculty and alumni volunteered, with many working one-on-one with the homeless individuals who received resources that included health care, housing benefits, job interviews, food stamps and child care.

Lawyers were available to check on the legal status of some individuals, and people with citations for petty offenses could sign up to have their cases heard at an on-site “Homeless Court.”

Mayor John Hickenlooper thanked the volunteers and told them that helping homeless people was the moral thing to do. He gave Chancellor Robert Coombe a proclamation announcing that April 20 is officially “DU Volunteer Day in Denver.”

DU volunteers say it was encouraging to see students and community members come together for such an event.

Sarah Davis (BA ’06) says the project “was such a mixture of people coming from all different walks of life, but being able to set judgments and misunderstanding aside and work with another human being one-on-one was a worthwhile and even priceless experience.”

Davis says she worked with a young, recently employed woman who was searching for transitional housing for her and her son.

“There were grand connections made, and I know understandings between different lives were planted,” Davis says.

Volunteer Emelye Neff, a sophomore international studies major, says she “applauds the city of Denver for taking such massive strides in the fight against homelessness. I did have the chance to work one-on-one with several stunning individuals who have overcome tremendous hardships in order to reset their lives back on track.”

Project Homeless Connect is a partnership between the city, Denver’s Road Home and Mile High United Way. In 2003, Denver established a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the Denver metro area and began hosting Project Homeless Connect events in 2005. DU decided to join in October 2006 following the annual Provost’s Conference, where University officials explored options to formally join research and service efforts in collaboration with the city.

University faculty will continue to conduct research with help from more than $25,000 in grant money DU designated for research projects specifically dedicated to the homelessness initiative.

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