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United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County

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At United Way, we see time and again that, when people have their basic needs met and access to opportunities to thrive, they turn around and help others.

In 2015, John and his girlfriend, Teresa, had fallen on hard times and were sleeping in a local park. In addition to working long hours, John was also pursuing a criminal justice degree.

“I was at my wits end,” remembered John. “I knew I wasn’t getting the quality of sleep I should be and it was affecting my work and school. I hated having my girlfriend sleep outside.”

John was also struggling with alcohol addiction. “I drank to stay warm,” said John.

Then, one day, a social worker visited them to learn about their situation and share resources. She mentioned Project Homeless Connect, a one-day, one-stop shop event that brings resources and services under one roof to support people experiencing homelessness. United Way is a proud partner in this annual event.

Last year, more than 700 individuals accessed services and resources at Project Homeless Connect.

On a cool fall day, John and Teresa caught a ride to the event. There, they spoke with representatives from Milwaukee County about housing and were put on a short list to get into an apartment.

“That really started us on the path to having a home we could call our own,” said John.

The Salvation Army was another valuable resource John found at Project Homeless Connect. After talking to some staff representatives, he decided to join their Adult Rehabilitation program for help with his alcohol addiction.

Soon after, John and Teresa moved into an apartment. Flash forward to today and they are housed, healthy, and thriving. “It was all due to Project Homeless Connect,” said John. 

Once he was back on his feet, John felt a strong pull to help others in the same situation he was in. So, in 2016, he signed up as a volunteer at Project Homeless Connect and St. Ben’s warming shelter.

“I know what it’s like to not have a place to go, a place to eat, a place to take a shower,” said John. “I know how it feels to not be loved. I’m here to spread love.”

John enjoys helping people find the resources they need. At last year’s Project Homeless Connect, he helped a male guest navigate resources and they talked quite a bit. “I ran into him on the bus the other day and he told me ‘I have a job, a home, and I have my grandkids back’ - that made my day,” said John.

John’s advice for others looking to give back is simple: visit United Way’s website to find a volunteer opportunity. As for what he would say to others who are experiencing challenges in their life, “I would tell them to have hope. My life was changed and yours can be, too.”

“When I see someone who has a home, has a job, they have a glow,” said John. “It brings tears to my eyes to know they have what they need.”

Learn more about Project Homeless Connect and how you can help.

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