“I think it can be easy to take our stations in life for granted and Project Homeless Connect is a reminder to realize that a few events here and there could send anyone’s life in a different direction.”
On Thursday, November 15, 2018, 750 volunteers and 1,400 people living in our community made a connection with one another at the Colorado Convention Center at Project Homeless Connect.
This is an event that brings together over 100 resource providers and volunteers from the community to help those individuals experiencing homelessness and housing instability connect with resources that give them access to basic necessities. There are 300,000 people living in poverty in Metro Denver.
The increasing cost of living in this area is forcing families to make almost impossible decisions.
Sometimes a family is forced to choose between diapers and child care. Sometimes an adult facing a medical condition is forced to choose between their mortgage payment or medicine. According to a report on economic well-being of U.S. households in 2015, “an unexpected expense of $400 can move a family from self-sufficiency to financial emergency.”
That’s an almost unimaginable place to be for most people. And when this happens, it’s not easy to get back to where you once were, without help. Most people living in poverty in Metro Denver aren’t able to easily access stable housing, quality child care and education, or jobs to support their families.
Eddie Koen, Chief Impact Officer at Mile High United Way, said, “Homelessness looks different these days. It’s where you’re working overtime, but you still can’t afford your rent. It’s families. It’s single parent households. It’s all ages.”
This doesn’t just have an effect on your physical well-being, this can have an effect on your mental and emotional well-being. To go from financial security to not being able to provide for yourself and those in your care isn’t an easy transition.
“I didn’t feel like coming here, but I’m glad I did. I got so much help here. I met someone in the service, like me, who was in the same area at a different time. He told me when it gets real cold to call him up and he’ll get me off the streets for a while. And then, I met a friend of mine who’s the veteran coordinator at the Samaritan House. I was in their program a year ago. She asked me, ‘do you have any more referrals?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ So my volunteer buddy and I went to the veteran’s booth and they said that I had two more referrals for transitional housing, so I can get off of the streets and get my life back together. Now, I’m going to get into a place a get a job in the end,” one attendee said.
This is why Mile High United Way partners with Denver’s Road Home, as well as the city of Denver, each year to host Project Homeless Connect at the downtown Colorado Convention Center.
Since the center is located in the heart of downtown, it helps to remove the barriers of time and transportation for most people experiencing homelessness. In addition to on-the-spot employment, health checks, and other basic services, this event connects each individual with a volunteer who walks them around the event space to help them find the exact services they’re looking for. Having that person paired up with them means more to some than anything else they experience that day. To have someone decide to spend their day with them without judgment is a gift that can’t be put into words.
Koen made a note that, “This event is onsite impact. People are breaking bread together and showing each other that they are worthy of love. People are getting the resources that they need, and the best thing is that people are seeing each other as human beings. This is a space where everyone feels welcome and where we can call Denver home. That’s the spirit of what Living United. We’re saying, ‘You matter in this city. You belong here.’”
That feeling was palpable in the room on Thursday morning. “My wife and I volunteered at this event a few years back and we helped a mom and her three daughters. It meant so much to us then that we had to come back and help again. My buddy today got a new coat and, as soon as he did, he went back and donated the one he came in with. How do you like that? I’m just so impressed by the generosity.”
Giving back is a tangible theme at Project Homeless Connect for everyone involved.
Agencies are taking time to share their resources with the community. Volunteers are taking the day to connect with someone in the community who they might not have otherwise. Individuals from the community, even though they’re receiving on this day, are also willing to give back what little they have.
“I heard about this event while I was staying at St. Francis, and I’ve been blessed to be paired with someone who’s putting in an effort to help people. It’s like what St. Francis is all about – helping people to prosper in life. When I look for service, I look at the quality of the person presenting it. Without these people here today, things wouldn’t be possible. It makes me want to give back in other ways. If I can volunteer, I can change someone’s day too.”
Connection is about bringing people together to form a real link or bond. The really moving piece about Project Homeless Connect is the connection it forms between strangers who see that maybe they’re not so different after all. Volunteers and participants alike want to give back and “pass on the generosity.”