In the News
EVENT OFFERS HELP, HOPE TO HOMELESSby Maria Garriga, Register Staff on 12/14/2007
NEW HAVEN – Tijuan Torres, 47, left the city's first fair for the homeless Wednesday with a blanket, a survival kit, and hope for getting a job.
The city's first Homeless Project Connect, an event conducted in 25 cities nationally, drew hundreds of needy people eager for hot coffee, warm blankets, food, medical attention, affordable housing information and free toiletries to 592 Ella Grasso Blvd.
They each received a survival kit: a flashlight, a toothbrush, a hand towel, a bottle of liquid soap and a roll of toilet paper.
"This is a safe place for them to come in and get connected," said Alison Cunningham, executive director of Columbus House, the city's largest emergency shelter.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness in Washington, D.C., has sponsored Homeless Project Connect nationally for three years.
Many of the homeless at the New Haven fair learned of the event because they were already staying at shelters.
"We are seeing more men with families come to the shelter," said B.J. Thomas, program manager at the Immanuel Baptist Homeless Shelter. "Their families stay with relatives and they come to the shelter."
In the first hour, 126 homeless people signed in to the fair. Thomas said a final count would be available today.
Several who attended the fair said they had become homeless when they were released from prison after serving sentences for drug-related convictions and had nowhere to go.
That was case for Torres, who hopes to get job training as an administrative assistant.
Another homeless man, who said he had been released from prison Friday, also found his way to a shelter but hopes he can get a job and keep his state-paid medical insurance.
"The medication I need costs $400 a month. I wanted to ask them how much I could work before I lose state aid," he said.
The man, who identified himself as P.A. so his friends will not realize he is homeless, said he had relapsed into drugs after 15 years of clean living before he was convicted.
"Everyone close to me had died, my mother, three months later my stepfather, then my uncle who was like a father to me, and then my fiance who died of complications from AIDS. All the people who held me together passed away. All in six months. I relapsed and made a mistake."
Prior to his relapse, P.A., now 52, had worked four jobs at once, as a freelance photographer, a driver, delivering pizza for one employer and newspapers for another. Now he wishes for at least one.
He left the fair happy and arrived at the New Haven Public Library carrying a brown bag with a blanket and water bottle in one hand and the survival kit in the other. Fair workers gave him potential leads to resolve his job situation, and a flu shot. "I just need to fix my health-care situation and I can get back on my feet," P.A. said with a relieved smile.
Some homeless people refused to go to the fair and say they will not set foot in the shelters.
"I'm sleeping outside tonight. The shelters are screwed up, you can get lice and scabies," said a 47-year-old, tiny homeless woman with huge blue eyes and a defiant smile. "It's my choice to be out here."