‘Faces of the Homeless’ event raises awareness for homelessness in Connecticut and beyond

Jacklyn Pellegrino, Staff Writer

Quinnipiac University’s Community Action Project partnered with Hands On Hartford Nov. 11, for its annual event “Faces of the Homeless” to raise awareness and educate attendees on how to get involved either by packing bags of food or reaching out to the local government. 

Community Action Project is the largest service organization at Quinnipiac and is divided into five sections, including hunger and homelessness. Hands On Hartford is a nonprofit organization that serves low-income residents by donating food, providing housing and raising awareness about the homelessness crisis.

Connor Lawless

Andrea, a participant who wished to keep her last name anonymous, shared her story during the event. Andrea is  a divorced mother who did “field work” in her community. She later became “house insecure” because her rent and expenses were much higher than what she was getting paid. She described what living in a homeless shelter was like.

“I was kicked out of two different shelters because I chose to go and speak about what was happening, which was inadequate maintenance,” Andrea said. “The places were not being kept up in terms of being clean, the building sometimes had rodents, there was mold in the building and carpets, the food had little nutritional value, and the (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system didn’t work so when you had 96-degree weather you would still have heat coming out instead of air.”

Andrea said she didn’t want to lose what made her who she was and what her mother instilled in her.

“I was proud to be a child that my mother was proud of,” Andrea said. “I was a good person in terms of making good decisions, working hard, being honest and sticking to our faith. I did not want to lie and say I had a drug addiction or I had domestic violence so I could get housing.”

Joe, who wished to keep his last name anonymous, also spoke at the event. He got injured on the job and said he “fell through the cracks in the system.” He wasn’t eligible for worker’s compensation or unemployment.

“I couldn’t collect unemployment because when I was terminated and hurt, they said it was a worker’s compensation case,” Joe said. “Worker’s compensation said it was an unemployment case, so I had no income coming in for six months.”

Joe had to sell his car and live on the Berlin turnpike for six weeks until he “got intervention” from Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office.

“If I hadn’t called them, I probably wouldn’t have been housed,” Joe said. “That’s what got me into doing this, advocating and speaking out about all the red tape that you have to go through, it’s quite a process and it’s very frustrating sometimes.”

I think college students, especially at this point in time in the world, have the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity to be able to bring forth change, to be actively involved.

— Joe, an advocate who used to be displaced

Maggie Goldberg, a sophomore in the athletic training and doctor of physical therapy 4+3 program, and April Alver, a junior in the entry level master’s physician assistant program, are the co-chairs of the Hunger and Homelessness chapter of the CAP. 

“They (Hands On Hartford) asked if we had any criteria or specific speakers that we wanted that we had in the past but since we’re new co-chairs, we just said ‘whoever you give us that you think will be great we’ll love,’” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said the goal of the event was to educate people that don’t “understand what it’s economically like to live in the area.” The event also touched on how college students can make an impact.

“I would say that college students do hold a lot of power,” Andrea said. “There are many different ways you can help whether it’s packing a bag of food, writing a letter to your senator or volunteering at an agency that serves food.”

Joe said not to be afraid to reach out to senators and local governments through email and hand-written letters.

“I think college students, especially at this point in time in the world, have the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity to be able to bring forth change, to be actively involved,” Joe said. “I think young people have the power to change the world, I truly believe that.”

Jennifer Marino, a sophomore health science studies major, attended the event and said that she learned how different the speakers’ stories were compared to homelessness stereotypes.

“When people think ‘homeless,’ they think of people without jobs with nowhere to go,” Marino said. “What the speakers made clear was that the majority of these people, especially those in Hartford, have jobs and work hard. The problem is (the) lack of affordable housing for these people.”

Marino said what she found inspiring was how relatable the speakers made their experiences.

“Both speakers made it very clear that the homeless people are almost always blacklisted from society,” Marino said. “One of the speakers told us to recognize the humanity in everyone in this world, and I think that was one of the most crucial points.”