A steady stream of members of New Haven’s homeless community filed into the interior of The Episcopal Church of St. Paul & St. James Friday, enjoying a brief respite from the morning chill.
About 60 homeless people received a number of basic health services through Project Homeless Connect, an initiative run by YHHAP — a student-led organization that aims to alleviate homelessness in the Elm City. The initiative is a biannual event that provides the homeless and individuals at risk of homelessness services including free haircuts and dental cleanings. The event also featured a Planned Parenthood station and book handouts from New Haven Reads. Aaron Troncoso ’17, one of the two Project Homeless Connect event coordinators, said the team responsible for running PHC was comprised of seven service providers and 20 volunteers. According to event coordinators and beneficiaries, PHC is just one part of Yale’s support for the New Haven homeless community. Friday’s event was a success, but there is much more to be done, event beneficiaries said.
“A simple haircut may mean a lot for someone without access to a hairdresser,” YHHAP Co-Director Ruth Hanna ’17 said in an email. “Dental cleanings are also vitally important for both health and self-esteem, but may not be readily available to people experiencing homelessness.”
Aryssa Damron ’18, a PHC event coordinator, said events like PHC help combat stigmas against homeless people — a problem that some homeless individuals interviewed said creates significant challenges in their daily lives.
Troncoso explained that many people do not understand the immense challenges homeless individuals undergo. He said working with PHC gave him a greater understanding of these challenges.
“I think that people have a tendency to dehumanize the individuals going through these immensely challenging situations,” Troncoso said. “Consciously realizing that I had been doing this, and correcting myself, has been the most perspective-altering thing for me personally.”
Pat, a 58-year-old homeless man from New Haven who attended Friday’s event, expressed a similar sentiment. He said the persistence of stigmas against the homeless is one of his greatest struggles. He added that while he credits the Yale student body for being “helpful and positive” in creating events like PHC, he still sees room for improvement.
Pat said he believes the University and Yale Police Department could “be more sympathetic” to the struggles he faces. He said he feels that the police are indifferent to his situation and constantly force him to move.
“There’s a lot of people out here who are educated,” Pat said. “Homeless is not ignorant, poor or stupid.”
A college graduate with a degree in architecture, Pat said he became unemployed after a series of health setbacks disabled him from working. He was forced out of his apartment last November.
Damron said in addition to fighting stigma, haircutting services can help homeless people improve their chances at employment by putting forth a better appearance.
She added that Project Homeless Connect introduces New Haven’s homeless population to city services, such as medical care, that they might not have known are available.
“At last year’s PHC, one of the clients came to the event without a doctor and left with an appointment with his new primary care physician,” Hanna said. “It’s really exciting how PHC connects people to so many resources in one place.”
Damron and Troncoso said that expanding outreach is crucial to their project, which is why they decided to make a second outreach event in the spring.
The second Project Homeless Connect Event will take place on the New Haven Green next semester.