Haircuts, dentistry, hygiene kits, clothing and assessments for entry into housing programs were among the services offered at the eighth consecutive annual Project Homeless Connect, held recently at Marquette University.
“This event is more than just a one-stop connection,” said Steven Mahan, director of Community Development Grants Administration for the City of Milwaukee. “It’s also used to assess what our needs are, for individuals who are in need of homeless services or just housing services.” Mahan pointed out that the number of people going into shelter and needing services has decreased significantly in recent years.
The total number of homeless individuals in Milwaukee County dropped from 1,537 in 2009 to 900 in 2017. The greatest decline occurred after the Housing First Initiative began in September 2015, according to data from the Milwaukee County Housing Division.
Milwaukee Project Homeless Connect is run by the Milwaukee Continuum of Care, under the leadership of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County.
“[United Way] pretty much creates a venue for the homeless population of our community to come together and find out what resources, what programs, what services are available to them, in addition to offering just some general, basic needs and support services for them while they’re on the [Marquette] campus,” said Shawanna Lindenberg, Community Advocates Housing Department manager.
The event relies on a cadre volunteers from organizations that include Marquette University, U.S. Bank, Harley Davidson, Hunger Task Force, Community Advocates, Mercy Housing, Salvation Army and Aurora Health Care.
“I think what we see, year in and year out, is that volunteers come back. Many have been here since day one for the past eight years, and they don’t miss it for anything,” said Rafael Acevedo, grant compliance manager for the City of Milwaukee.
LaTrina Webster became affiliated with Project Homeless Connect through her job as a driver at Outreach Community Health Centers. She has been volunteering for two years now. “We’re picking up people and dropping them off at this great event today,” she said.
Intake volunteers were tasked with signing in guests, and collecting basic data before transitioning them to guest advocates, who helped homeless individuals navigate through the resources and services.
According to Shannon Reed, director of Innovative Strategies for Boys and Men of Color at United Way, “The resources don’t just stop today. We have a lot of organizations that are doing this work, and what’s important is that we need to make sure that this collaboration happens not only today but every day.”