United Way NCA, in partnership with the District of Columbia, recently held its third annual Project Homeless Connect, which aims to provide easy access to critical support systems and welfare benefits for citizens most in need.
Held outside the Kennedy Recreation Center in Northwest, the Thursday, Oct. 19 event assisted more than 300 needy residents with receiving aid, including eye exams, dental consultations, podiatry services, free food, haircuts and housing initiatives.
“I moved to D.C. back in 2015 and fell on some very hard times,” said Linda, a middle-age District resident. “I’ve been homeless for about a year now in D.C. and I came to this event today to get all the help I can. Overall my experience was very good and I got a lot of help.”
Items including clothes, underwear, pillows, umbrellas and toiletries were packaged in tote bags that were donated by nearly 500 nonprofits, including Howard University Hospital and Thrive DC, a major homelessness aid facility.
D.C. ranks among the nation’s worst in homelessness rates, with an estimated 124 homeless people per 10,000 residents.
“There are a variety of ways that people can end up on the outskirts of society,” said Pam Pyles-Walker, a Thrive DC employee. “Be it being unemployed or underemployed or just having mental health issues, these are things that can keep people from getting everyday services that everybody else receives. And if D.C. wants to bring all the services together to make them convenient for those who need it, then we want to be here to support that.”
The mayor’s office also took part in the event, with participating organizations and individuals including Whitman-Walker’s Mobile Unit, which issued free HIV tests, DC Board of Elections, which assisted with voter registration, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a staunch advocate for the homeless.
“A problem we have in this city is that affordable housing has disappeared, and this has made homelessness a big issue for many of us,” Norton said. “During Obama’s administration, homelessness went down, largely in part to federal funds and homeless assistance grants, and that is what we are working to continue, despite appropriators fighting back.”