Agencies gave out coats, advice and aid to homeless in Rochester - Catholic Courier

Agencies gave out coats, advice and aid to homeless in Rochester

ROCHESTER — As Mercy Sister Grace Miller, founder and director of the House of Mercy, greeted a friend Oct. 15 at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial, they shook hands, and she told him this was his day.

"This is everyone’s day," the man responded.

He was referring to the more than 1,000 people who were taking part in Project Homeless Connect Rochester, an event during which homeless people or those at risk of being homeless were able to get help with immediate needs, including a hot meal, medical and dental checkups, haircuts, and hygiene services. They also were able to get help and connect with community agencies to resolve problems, file paperwork and get answers to questions on such topics as housing, employment, government and veterans benefits, and legal services.

The event was started by representatives from area homeless shelters, including the House of Mercy, Dmitri House, St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality and Catholic Family Center. Assistance from city and county governments, local businesses and nonprofits also supported the event. Project Homeless Connect was first conducted in San Francisco and was such a success that it has been repeated in that city and in other cities throughout the country.

Participant organizations included the Homeless Services Network, Wegmans, Foodlink, Unity Health, Xerox, St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, the Veterans Outreach Center, The Salvation Army, Eastman Dental Center, Empire Justice Center, Frontier Communications, Verizon Wireless, Rochester General Hospital, Strong Memorial Hospital, Monroe County Legal Assistance Center, Legal Aid Society of Rochester, the Volunteer Legal Services Project, the Social Security Administration, Rochester Works, ABVI-Goodwill, Dixon Schwabl, Roctree Management, Nixon Peabody, Crafting Links, Browncroft Creative and Huther Doyle.

The sheer number of agencies that participated was initially overwhelming to Charice, who is living in a Rochester women’s shelter and asked that her last name not be used.

"I think it’s really good," Charice said. "They have never had anything like this, with so many different organizations. When I first walked it, it was almost overwhelming."

Charice said she decided to attend the event to get a doctor’s exam for her 1-year-old son, Calex. While at the event, she also was able to get information about obtaining a Social Security card. She said she was glad to see that the event was even offering haircuts.

"That’s just nice," she said.

Marc J. Natale, director of administrative services for the Monroe County Department of Human Services, said officials know that more than 1,000 people attended because 1,000 registration forms had been printed, and volunteers ran out of them. Demand for winter coats also far exceeded the initial supply that day. As a result, Monroe County bought 700 additional adult and children’s coats from The Salvation Army to distribute at the event; leftovers were then donated to area shelters, Natale said in an e-mail the next day.

The event also allowed potential volunteers to see firsthand the range of assistance available. One of those potential volunteers, the Rev. Marlowe Washington, was being introduced to people by and received a personal tour of the event from Sister Miller. Rev. Washington said about 10 homeless men have been living on the grounds of his church, Baber AME Church.

"It has become a main issue of our church, and we were not the best Christians," said Rev. Washington, who noted his church plans to work on ways to help the men.

One of the main problems for some of the chronically homeless is mental illness, Sister Miller noted. Some of the mentally ill are unable to keep doctors’ appointments, leading them to be sanctioned, or temporarily lose access to government-provided social services, she said.

"They will never be able to comply with the regulations of welfare and agencies that want them to get jobs and hold jobs," she said of some of the mentally ill homeless population.

Tom Malthaner, a staff member with St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, said his agency sees many people who are sanctioned, meaning they are unable to be accepted into St. Joseph’s 12-bed emergency shelter.

"Because a person is sanctioned, there is no place to put them, so a lot of times, we give them a blanket and they go out," Malthaner said. "We need more solutions."

Those who are homeless and sanctioned are on a means-tested system through the county’s social services, which presents them with rules and regulations they must follow, said Kelly Reed, Monroe County’s commissioner of human services and the honorary cochair of the Oct. 15 event, along with Sister Miller. If a person is not successful with a means-tested system, the county may work to place them on another form of assistance, such as public assistance, or Social Security, she said.

"We specifically try to make it as welcoming a system as we are able to," Reed said.

One benefit of Project Homeless Connect Rochester was that it allowed people to meet human-services providers one on one, she said.

"People can talk to us about what’s going on and we can see if there’s a way to take what is a complex system and break it down into achievable steps for them," Reed said.

Sister Miller noted that the best part of the day was that it put attention on the problem of homeless locally.

"All of us here have a responsibility to take care of the homeless," Sister Miller said. "If we try to live the Gospel, then we have to help the homeless: Invite them in and help them get on their feet."

EDITOR’S NOTE: A fundraiser on Thursday, Oct. 22, also will combat hunger and homelessness locally. The sixth-annual Empty Bowls fundraiser to benefit Catholic Family Center’s Homeless and Housing Services Department will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at Our Lady of Mercy High School, 1437 Blossom Road, Brighton. Local potters have created unique ceramic bowls that will be auctioned at the event. A simple soup supper will be provided by area restaurants Keenans, Antonettas, Rorhbach’s and Don’s Original. There will be live music by Birds on a Wire, beer and wine tasting, a dessert bar, and a silent auction. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at Wegmans or online at Details are at

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