St. Paul Homeless Connect offers one-day gathering of resources for the poor
Niya Irving greeted Kassandra Himes and her five children with a warm smile as they entered the large auditorium in the basement of Saint Paul RiverCentre June 28. Himes, a single mother who moved to St. Paul from Chicago in April, was in need of help.
Irving and a group of several hundred volunteers were poised to lend a hand.
They were there as part of St. Paul Homeless Connect, a one-day event designed to place a number of practical services and resources in one place so that people in need could access them easily. Catholic Charities served as host for the event and teamed with Ramsey County Human Services, the State of Minnesota and other service providers.
Irving was motivated to volunteer because she has used such services herself.
“I was homeless last year,” said Irving, 26, the single mother of an 18-month-old daughter, Jessania. “I just came in to help people and give them a little bit of what I got. It [the event] made me know there is hope.”
She walked around the auditorium with Himes and made sure Himes found all of the services and resources she needed. Irving even took three of Himes’ younger children to a child-care area so they could play while their mother filled her bag with useful information.
Two of Himes’ greatest needs were housing and school information. She left the auditorium having signed up her children for school in the fall. Schools will be contacting her in the next two months with information, then she will decide where the kids will go when classes start in September.
“Right now, I’m staying in a shelter,” said Himes, 32, who is pregnant with her sixth child and due in August. “It’s a little bit of a struggle, but I try to do the best I can with whatever [help] I get. They have a lot of resources down here [at St. Paul Homeless Connect]. That’s what I like.”
Event coordinator Katie Tuione, housing manager for Catholic Charities, was glad to see an estimated 1,700 people come to gain access to a wide range of services and resources, including human services benefits, health care, legal assistance, veterans’ benefits, state identifica-tion services and personal services like haircuts.
At the conclusion of her visit, Himes and her children received a free meal and a set of bus passes from Irving.
“Our hot meal was a huge success,” Tuione said. “People’s bags [of printed materials] are full. That tells me they’re utilizing the resources that are here. Child care is full and that tells me families are using our services.”
Irving was so committed to helping others in need that she showed up at 8:30 a.m., even though the doors were not opened to visitors until 10 a.m. The memories of her struggle to escape homelessness — and violence — are still fresh and raw.
“I was in a battered women’s shelter,” said Irving, a St. Paul resident who says she is Catholic but does not belong to a specific parish. “I had a boyfriend who liked to abuse me. One day, he went to work and I got away and went to a battered women’s shelter. That was May 1 of last year. . . . Today, I’m in an apartment. I got an apartment with my daughter. I’m a struggling young mom. I’m unemployed.”
Need is great
The continued economic downturn has increased the number of people needing the help that St. Paul Homeless Connect provides.
Tuione said that there were 500 more visitors this year than last year. And, some of the people who traditionally have been resistant to attending these types of events have started coming — members of ethnic communities like Hmong, who generally try to look within their own communities for the help they need.
“I was really touched to see some of those communities present here,” she said. “If nothing else works today, I’m the proudest of that.”
For volunteers like Irving, the satisfaction comes from something much simpler — being able to reach out and help someone in need.
“I want to live my life helping other people,” she said. “I’m a people person. I can talk to anybody and make them smile, even on their worst day.
“This [event] touched me. It helped me see all the needs of the people and all the people crying out for help. This is a serious matter.”
It’s a matter made more serious by this economy, Tuione noted. “The economy is not forgiving,” she said, “therefore, we cannot fall behind on the needs of those we serve.”
Category: Local News