The day starts with excitement and smiling, eager volunteers. They have learned what they need to know for the day and are ready to meet the faces of people they can help. Back in-person after two years with virtual efforts, they can take part in one of the most buzzed about days in our community: Project Homeless Connect.
Founded in 2004 out of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Project Homeless Connect is a nationally recognized model aimed at serving people experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect. Over the last two decades, cities and communities across the nation, including Milwaukee and Waukesha, have taken on the Project Homeless Connect model and made it their own.
This community event brings multiple resources and services under one roof to best serve people who are experiencing homelessness.
The volunteers, who are called Guest Advocates, in Milwaukee and Waukesha are paired with guests throughout the day. Guests may need health services, clothes, legal aid services, or financial coaching. They may also be looking for employment opportunities, resources for older adults, or aid after leaving an abusive relationship. Annually, about 80 organizations provide resources and services to help those experiencing homelessness, and new this year, a Quiet/Meditation Room is available, in case anyone feels overwhelmed or needs a reflective break.
Project Homeless Connect was adopted in Milwaukee in 2009 and in Waukesha in 2019. Guests are invited to the event through Milwaukee’s Street Outreach Teams, who distribute flyers to members of the community who would benefit from the resources and services provided. United Way works with case managers at area shelters to help prepare the future guests with the right tools – such as birth certificates, job history, and other important papers – so that they are better prepared and won’t feel overwhelmed. On the day of the event, the outreach teams head back out to the community, even providing transportation to the campus that Project Homeless Connect has borrowed for the day.
The involvement of street outreach teams getting the word out and then providing constant transportation throughout the day has been crucial in connecting those experiencing homelessness with Project Homeless Connect. Prior to their efforts in 2017, attendance remained below 500 guests. After their involvement, attendance climbed to over 700 guests. During the pandemic, our regional Project Homeless Connect pivoted to focus on education and advocacy in the community. Post-pandemic, we’re looking forward to resuming in-person efforts to help as many guests as possible in both Milwaukee and Waukesha.
Also crucial to the success of Project Homeless Connect are the volunteers, who ensure a positive, smooth experience throughout the day and for the guests. Without the hundreds of volunteers dedicating their day as Guest Advocates, Milwaukee and Waukesha’s Project Homeless Connect couldn’t be as successful as it is.
Guests and Guest Advocates bond with stories and experiences, “shop” for needed clothing items, have lunch, and even attend health screenings together. Always popular with guests is the onsite barbershop and hair salon. Skilled barbers and hairdressers turn a portion of Marquette into a barbershop experience. The Project Homeless Connect Barbershop is filled with music and laughter. Guests and their Advocates continue that joy with a visit to our Photo Booth where guests might take a headshot photo with their fresh haircut, or the guest and volunteer might take a picture together as a memento of the meaningful day.
Past volunteers have expressed how joyous they were to experience this event. They were able to learn more about their community and easy ways to help those experiencing homelessness. Guests at the end of the day often say how grateful they are, not just for the experience, but that they were treated with dignity. They felt seen, heard, and are no longer an invisible presence in our community.
Through Project Homeless Connect, our community can better identify who is experiencing homelessness, why they are experiencing homelessness, and what we need to do to prevent it in the future. We can take this data and implement real changes with the help of local leaders and decision makers.
Help us make Project Homeless Connect a continued success in 2023. Volunteers are still needed at both the Milwaukee and Waukesha events.
Learn more and register for a shift here: https://unitedwaygmwc.org/Project-Homeless-Connect
Images: Top, volunteers at Milwaukee's Project Homeless Connect in 2019; Inline Left, Waukesha's Project Homeless Connect in 2019; Inline Right, Milwaukee's Project Homeless Connect in 2019
Want to support our Safe & Stable Homes initiative?
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