Helping the homeless

Claire Eichner, Staff writer

Erie County’s homeless population is estimated to be about 1,400 people. As of 2016, a count showed that there were about 419 shelters in the City of Erie alone. This semester, students from the Social Work department, in the Social Work Practice 3 course, are lending a helping hand and participating in a group project to raise awareness about homelessness.

The goal of the project is to incorporate two major components that go along with homelessness: mental health and basic needs. Throughout the semester, this group of tenacious students have been collecting clothing, food and hygiene products that are then distributed among various organizations that they have partnered with.

These organizations include the Erie City Mission, the Mental Health Association and the Upper Room.

Cristal Maldonado, senior Social Work major, has played an instrumental role in getting this project to where it is now.

“Homelessness in Erie County is a more prominent issue than people think,” Maldonado said. “Our major goal for this project is to drop off donations to each organization bi-weekly and build rapport with the staff and homeless individuals that utilize that organization’s services.”

Along with having a positive impact on the community, another part of the project is to compile a video that will bring the project to life.

“The video will consist of interviews with staff personnel who work with the homeless population and interviews with homeless people who use the services,” Maldonado said.

The plan is to show the video on campus and throughout the community sometime in April, providing additional opportunities to raise awareness.

While the group does not have a specific number of donations that they are shooting for, they will continue to accept items through the end of March. Every bit counts and can make a difference.

This project is not an annual one currently, although similar projects have been conducted through the department in the past.

“If all goes well and a lot of people become interested in the topic, there is a possibility the Social Work club can collect donations and make it an annual tradition to keep actively donating,” Maldonado said.

For now, the students are still looking for donations and will be collecting them from all students and faculty on campus up until March 30. The video is set for release in April.