Apr 192012
Authors: Andrew Carrera

It isn’t every day that volunteer commitments turn into unforgettable life moments. But that’s what Project Homeless Connect, a one-day outreach event to Fort Collins’ homeless community, has been for hundreds of CSU students.

Beau Loendorf was one of them.

“I signed up for the first shift and I ended up staying until two or three,” he said. “ … Instead of a help, I was definitely a resource.”

The junior communications major and Alpha Sigma Phi president joined about 450 CSU student volunteers who helped put on the event last year. When 440 homeless locals lined up outside of the Northside Aztlan Community Center to take advantage of free on-site services, counseling, food, clothing and other items, Loendorf thought all he was going to do was check them in.

Instead, he and fellow students were paired one-to-one with each participant and helped them navigate the array of offerings that Project Homeless Connect provided.

“When they come, they don’t have to worry about anything,” he said. “ … It’s a day for us as volunteers to take on that worry for them.”

But they weren’t just guides herding their clients into meetings with care providers. They were friends to share the day –– a caring soul to confide in.

“With this guy, he was in his mid-forties, and he was so cool …” Loendorf said, recalling how happy the man was despite all the obstacles life had thrown at him. “ … It was so inspiring to hear his story.”

And on Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at NACC, when Project Homeless Connect happens for the third time since 2010, about 500 CSU students will also be partnered with just as many homeless clients and hear their stories.

The event is a part of Homeward 2020 –– an organization founded by Fort Collins resident Bryce Hach whose mission is to eradicate homelessness in the area in 10 years by coordinating community resources.

The plan’s first five years are devoted to assessing the needs of and pooling together resources for the chronically homeless, which began in 2010. The demographic represents about 10 percent of the transient population but requires more than 50 percent of municipal goods and services, from emergency health care to police bookings. They’re the vulnerable few who walk the street and are often the very pictures of homelessness in the minds of many.

The second phase is devoted to the well-being of the episodically homeless. They’re usually the couch surfers who stay with friends, sometimes following a job loss or family shakeup. Fort Collins has more than 400 of these individuals at any given time, according to 2010 data.

“People who are homeless are really existing in survival mode,” Hach said in a previous Collegian interview. Taking care of pressing present needs –– like getting food and finding a shelter –– is a chore that must come first and leaves little time or energy for much else. Going on a serious job hunt and making a meaningful lifestyle change aren’t always opportunities within reasonable reach.

The point of Project Homeless Connect is to make that less of a reality. And CSU student volunteers are “one of those killer lynchpin pillars that make this whole thing possible,” he said.

“Although (it) is a single-day event, its impact has the potential to be long-lasting,” Hach said in a press release. “It connects the homeless with the resources they need to improve their daily lives, and enables us to collect valuable information through confidential questionnaires which can be used in strategic planning toward the goal of ensuring homelessness is rare, short-lived and non-recurring in Fort Collins.”

Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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