Fort Collins has repeatedly been named one of the top cities to live in, but for the homeless, it can be a struggle just to survive. Numerous organizations have attempted to alleviate homelessness in Fort Collins, which in the past 20 years has risen by 2 percent.
City laws that prohibit sleeping in cars or on public property have made it hard for those who suffer from homelessness to find places to sleep. The fees, penalties and consequences that result from breaking these laws prevent them from getting jobs or escaping financial debts.
To try to reduce the burden on homeless people in Fort Collins, CSU students and the local community teamed up to host Project Homeless Connect, a one-day event designed to aid the increasing homeless population in Fort Collins.
“It’s kind of like that two-fold experience where students are having a mind-opening experience and people experiencing homelessness are paired with someone who genuinely wants to hear their story and let them know they’re appreciated,” said Michael Pupiales, senior at CSU and Project Homeless Connect assistant coordinator.
Project Homeless Connect provides assistance and resources to necessities such as medical exams, housing information and legal advice, that those suffering from homelessness might not have had access to otherwise.
This year’s event, co-produced by Homeward 2020, Bohemian Foundation and CSU’s SLiCE office, hosted around 400 clients who were paired with volunteers for the day.
“I don’t have medical insurance, so this is the only time that I can get help,” said Rosa, a client at the Project Homeless Connect event.
Rosa said that she and Teresa, a friend attending the event with her, didn’t know about the event until the day before, and found everything so useful that they hope it will continue next year. Teresa said she especially enjoyed getting her hair cut and having a professional photograph taken of her.
“They came out beautifully and my sons love them,” Teresa said with a laugh.
Senior CSU student Meg Monacelli said this was not only an opportunity to provide essential services to people but also to bring awareness to Fort Collins citizens about some of the disadvantages people face every day.
“This event is crucial for so many reasons. It bridges the gap between homeless individuals, the community and CSU students. It brings us all together and we learn about this together and we interact, which is the most humanizing thing you can do,” Monacelli said.
But the success from the day sends another message for Pupiales.
“Project Homeless Connect is just the beginning … it’s almost a shame it happens only one out of 365 days,” Pupiales said. “We shouldn’t underestimate the effect that we can have. Whether it’s just acknowledging someone’s existence on the street corner that could be worlds to that one person … there’s always something we can do.”
Students who participated in the event plan to hold a workshop and forum to further explore the issue Wednesday, April 13 in LSC 386 from 3-5 p.m.
Collegian Reporter Gina Johnson Spoden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gina_spoden5.