Over a hundred members of New Haven’s homeless population gathered in St. Paul’s Church at 57 Olive St. Friday morning, receiving dental checkups, legal aid and other social services.
Sponsored by the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect offered services that the homeless may not always have immediate access to. Service providers who volunteered included dental hygienists who performed on-the-spot checkups, the New Haven legal aid, representatives from the department of Veterans Affairs, local nonprofit Liberty Community Services and a group of clinicians who administered blood pressure checks. Also present were representatives from the Yale School of Medicine and hairstylists offering their services free of charge.
“It’s a lot to plan, but it’s really great to see people come and engage with students, as well as see people get these services,” said Jerelyn Luther ’16, one of the event’s co-organizers. She added that this year was the first time that legal aid and veteran services representatives were present.
Another new feature of the event was the free clothing closet — this year supplied by an unlikely sponsor: Yale’s laundry rooms. According to YHHAP President Julia Calagiovanni ’15, the Yale Sustainability Service Corps has recently launched a new initiative to remove left-behind clothes in Yale’s laundry rooms and donate them to YHHAP.
According to Jenny Friedland ’17, another co-organizer of the event, one of the biggest challenges leading up to the day of the event was getting the word out to the homeless population — which, according to the 2013 Point in Time Count, is 767 people in the Elm City. Friedland said that the organization advertised the event by putting up posters around New Haven in places such as New Haven Green, and reaching out to partner organizations within New Haven who could inform potential attendees. Still, organizers say that the event could draw more participants.
“We definitely have the capacity to serve more people,” Friedland said.
Calagiovanni said that turnout at the event can vary significantly from year to year and can be influenced by factors as small as the weather on that day or how well the details of the event traveled by word of mouth.
In order to draw as many participants as possible, the event was scheduled from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Most homeless shelters in New Haven force those staying in the shelter to leave for the day at 7:00 a.m., Luther said.
Friedland estimated that over 75 student volunteers came to the event to offer support, particularly in the form of guiding participants between stations.
Other stations at the event included one with Yale Divinity School students, whom participants could talk to for emotional support, as well as coffee donated by Blue State Coffee and free breakfast. In addition, the morning featured a table of free books and a performance by the Yale Glee Club.
Calagiovanni said that the necessity of some services provided, such as dental checkups, was not immediately apparent.
“Dental services are never something that anyone thinks is an emergency until you have a big problem, but proper dental care has a big impact on people’s life,” Calagiovanni said.
She added that she thought that the haircut station was one of the most important services offered because a haircut can have a big impact on a person’s self-image.
According to the Connecticut 2013 Point in Time Count, 7 percent of New Haven’s homeless population are veterans.