Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

University joins city in homelessness initiative

When Mayor John Hickenlooper in 2005 initiated his 10-year plan to end citywide homelessness, Denver joined more than 230 U.S. cities with similar initiatives. Now, after the October 2006 Provost’s Conference focused on developing strategic partnerships with the city, DU will host and help staff the city’s fourth Project Homeless Connect (PHC) April 20. 

PHC is intended as a services fair where members of the homeless population can find resources and have immediate and long-term needs met — haircuts will be provided; laundry vouchers and toiletries will be handed out; education information will be available; job interviews, medical care and housing services will be given. The event allows the homeless to access several service providers in one day as opposed to making calls and visits on their own — something that could normally take weeks or months. 

For the DU community, the project offers the chance to work closely with a population not usually visible on campus, says Eric Fretz, Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning director. The event, which will serve as the exclusive outlet this year for DU’s annual Volunteer Days, will be in Gates Field House from 9 a.m.–2 p.m. 

Based on turnout at previous events, 1,000 homeless people are expected to attend, meaning at least the same number of volunteers will be needed to serve as escorts and work one-on-one with the homeless. 

“It will provide an opportunity for DU students to see the real face of homelessness, to break down their misconceptions about why and how people are homeless, and actually get involved in real solutions to the homelessness problem in Denver,” Fretz says. 

Homeless individuals will also be able to personally connect with people in higher education. 

“Project Homeless Connect has always been a very meaningful event for both the homeless people who are helped and the volunteers who serve, but DU’s commitment to host the event will make it even more powerful,” says Mike Durkin, president of Mile High United Way, the city’s major partner on PHC. “The participation of a premier higher-education institution like DU will expose the homeless people in our community to a wonderful world of opportunities and potential.” 

As the University continues working with the city after PHC, Fretz and Linda Olson, Pioneer Leadership Program director, are working with the city to identify research, service-learning and internship opportunities for faculty and students to continue working on city projects. Already, Christian Molidor, interim dean of the Graduate School of Social Work, has been appointed to the mayor’s Drug Strategy Task Force. 

“This event provides a launching pad for a larger intent to create a university-city partnership, which utilizes the expertise on both ends to provide learning opportunities, practical research and solution-building for a better community,” Olson says. 

Denver’s project is modeled after the first Project Homeless Connect, which was held in San Francisco in 2004. Now, 120 cities — including Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis and San Diego — use similar events to help combat homelessness, Fretz says. Volunteers can sign up later this month and can visit for more information. Neighbors can call 303-871-4365 for more information.  

This article originally appeared in
The Source, February 2007.

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