Being “Homeful” for the Homeless in Hartford

Viraj Dcunha '22, Contributor

“Homeless, need help,” the sign read. The sign written on brown cardboard cut from a banana box became clear as he walked towards our stopped car.
On my way to see my grandmother he was always there, it seemed. At first, I barely noticed him. He could not be more than 25 years old, and he wore patched faded blue jeans and a torn woolen cap. His shoes were worn out and full of grime. Sometimes people rolled their windows down and he would bow, hold his hands together in a sign of gratitude, and move on to the next car.
On some occasions, my dad and I encountered this man. Each time we gave him some money, he always smiled, said thank you, and handed me a candy cane. I only focused on the candy cane after that.
On another occasion, I noted a man with a veteran’s cap and a USA flag on his torn jacket lapel outside the Stop and Shop we frequented. I began to think to myself, why, in a state of plenty and a country so rich, are there so many men who have no place to live? Why are they homeless when we live in such a rich country?
A lot of people often misunderstand how people become homeless. Maybe it is because people think that they have no way of helping the person or they just don’t want to. An expression that I learned was “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

I learned my lesson by spending time with those in need and I was often surprised when I was up close to people who were less fortunate than me. I spent time at South Park Inn, a homeless shelter in Hartford.

“Yes, some of us may have addiction problems, but that is not the case for all homeless people,” said Eric, one of the residents at South Park Inn. “We all started with normal lives, no one is born into homelessness. All we want is some help to get back on track and return to the lives that we used to have. We are not invisible, and we would like to be treated just like normal people.”

Eric described his difficulty in searching for jobs while having a criminal record to his name. The other residents told me about how difficult life was without a home, and how they felt lonely and looked down upon because of people’s unwillingness to acknowledge them.

In the United States, over 3.5 million people become homeless every year. 30% of these are families. It was projected by the University of Pennsylvania that about 40% of the homeless can become infected at the pandemics viral peak with more than 21,000 hospitalized. In Connecticut, there are about 4,000 homeless people, about 3,500 of whom are in shelters, so about 11 in every 10,000 people in CT are homeless.

The top causes of homelessness among families are (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, and (4) low wages, in that order. The same report found that the top four causes of homelessness among unaccompanied people were (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, (4) mental illness and the lack of needed services, and (5) substance abuse and the lack of needed services.

There is so much we can do to help the less fortunate among us. During my freshman year, I worked with Mr. LaForest and Mrs. Henderson to raise money to purchase items for a “warm-up” winter kit. Each kit cost about $13 including a pair of socks, gloves, hand warmers, and a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Although it is a very simple task, I raised enough money to make about 50 kits. When I delivered the kits to Mercy Shelter in Hartford, I remember seeing the smiles on their faces. This past year, I worked again with Mrs. Henderson to set up this same project by using the leftover money that some Loomis families kindly donated. However, I was hoping to involve more students on this issue, and together Mrs. Henderson and I got the items and had the freshmen during Freshman service day assemble them and deliver them to South Park Inn.
“Stay home and stay safe,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said at the height of the new pandemic we face. That is not an option for the homeless population. The future of homelessness is now more uncertain. The COVID-19 pandemic spreading in our community has made even the most optimistic fear. Without a restroom for frequent hand washing, laundry, and personal hygiene, more will live on the streets as they adapt to the new social distancing needs of the shelters.

I think we can rise to the occasion as Pelicans. Be Homeful is a new club that I will launch next fall. I am drawing on the experience we gained from our successful launch this year of our Pelican Day. Lily Walker ’23 helped deliver kits that she and her fellow ninth-graders made. Inspired to do more for the homeless, Lily is now assisting me in launching the Be Homeful club to raise awareness for those in need.

We will be making care kits to help the homeless population in this difficult situation. We hope that each kit will include a cloth mask, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a pack of tissues, a pair of gloves, and a kind note.

The issue of homelessness will only get worse with the sudden change and difficult situation the pandemic has put everyone into. Those who are homeless are very susceptible to the disease and can use our help to stay healthy. While people are staying in their homes, the homeless have nowhere to go and it is almost impossible for them to social distance and avoid contact with other people. In addition, many people are losing their jobs or are unable to pay their rent/mortgage and may lose their homes.

If you would like to help and have extra gloves, sanitizer, tissues, or other resources that the homeless population may need, please contact either Lily or myself. Together we can all get through this tough situation. We as a community can accomplish a lot in order to tackle such a vast, global issue. They may be homeless, but with our help, we can make their lives easier by giving them the resources they need; it is especially important in such a difficult time. Join Lily and me in our quest to bring the message “Be Homeful” to Loomis.