Nearly 500 served at annual Project Homeless Connect

Jenna Schuster

Project Homeless Connect returned this Friday for its seventh successful year, serving nearly 500 clients in connection with the Fort Collins homeless community.

The event featured services from about 40 organizations in addition to a support staff that included a few hundred SLiCE and Colorado State University volunteers.

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The annual event is part of Homeward 2020, Fort Collins’ 10 year plan to end homelessness. It took place throughout the morning and was hosted at the Aztlan Community Center.

“This is an incredible event because community members and students actually engage with other community members experiencing homelessness or experiencing poverty,” said Claire Andrues, a student coordinator from the SLiCE office.

Andrues has also worked on community projects such as CSUnity and cans around the Oval.

“A lot of times in society, especially on the CSU campus, we separate ourselves from the general public or from those who are experiencing hard times. So this event is really positive,” Andrues said.

Volunteers were identifiable by their bright blue t-shirts. Many spent the morning paired up, one-on-one, with event participants.

“We have a long line of volunteers just ready to go. They’re mostly just here to talk to people and get to know them and hear their stories,” Andrues said. “It’s about connecting, getting down to the basics and having a conversation with someone. It’s about getting to know them and value them.”

For Michael Pupiales, a volunteer for Project Homeless Connect, the event has had a lasting impact. Pupiales volunteered at the event for the first time five years ago and has since found a career in the field.

“My first year of undergrad I volunteered for the event and had a really powerful experience that kind of changed my perspective of homelessness,” Pupiales said. “From there I got involved in a lot of local grassroots activism that eventually led to a paid position.”

Pupiales currently works at the SLiCE office as a program aide.

Volunteers were responsible for guiding participants through the event and ensuring they got to the services they needed. The community center was transformed into a conglomerate of booths, tents, trucks and pop-up shops seeking to make a difference.

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“It’s really positive. Folks are really having a good time and getting to know stories,” Pupiales said. “There’s lot of realization folks are having about the consequences of homelessness.”

The Bohemian Foundation coordinated many of the services for the event. Project Homeless Connect provided free haircuts, family portraits, vision screenings, bike repair and pet care. The parking lot of the community center was filled with mobile units and even included a Saint Joseph Mammography Van.

“The services that are brought here are just so needed. People find out about services that they didn’t even know existed,” said Linda Nuss, a program director for Homeless Gear and part of the Bohemian Foundation. “So it’s a great platform for people to get the help that they need that they might not otherwise get,” Nuss said.

Collegian reporter Jenna Schuster can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @SchusterJenna