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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The first of many to come

Solo Por Hoy Executive Director Belinda Hill, center, with several participants at Tuesday’s symposium on homelessness at Cataño’s convention center.

Symposium schools professionals on the reality of homelessness

By Richard Gutíerrez

Special to The Star

The nonprofit organization Solo Por Hoy held its first conference symposium on Tuesday at Cataño’s convention center, called: “Creando conciencia per, las personas sin hogar” (Raising Awareness for Homeless People).

The purpose of the conference was to raise the awareness of professionals who work with people who are homeless, sharing techniques on how to approach these individuals and how to manage cases of homelessness. Apart from experts in homelessness, the conference also provided a panel made up of a group of individuals who were homeless themselves and were able to share their experiences living in the streets.

The conference also covered topics such as the correlation between domestic violence and homelessness. The event was filled with social workers, psychologists and civil servants, all of them looking to add to their knowledge of homelessness to ensure they provide quality service to those in need of a home.

Even though the event was sponsored by Solo Por Hoy, some 26 different organizations took part.

Solo Por Hoy Executive Director Belinda Hill said the organization started out helping women who suffered from substance abuse; however, this focus eventually transformed into that of a service provider for those who did not have a home. The organization’s staff members, recognizing that they could not achieve that next level of service on their own, so they partnered with another nonprofit, La Fondita de Jesús, which had more experience dealing with homelessness.

“Our main goal is that nobody sleeps in the street,” Hill told the STAR. “Not necessarily to eradicate homelessness, that would probably be impossible, but we most certainly will always have the opportunity to help someone and reduce the time that the person spends on the street. That’s the main goal.”

Hill added that the symposium was directed at a broad array of different organizations, because of the great diversity that exists among homeless people.

“Even if Solo Por Hoy is sponsoring this event, one organization is not enough to address the needs of every individual without a home,” she said. “They do not have the same tools; not every organization is equipped the same way to deal with every homeless situation. That’s where our allies like La Fondita de Jesús come in. This event’s main purpose is to bring a sense of understanding and comprehension to those who serve the people in the street, directly from the people who are currently in need, so that they can listen directly from those who need a home, what they go through, their struggles, their difficulties. Because believe it or not, a lot of the times the first people who step back into these situations are those whose job is primarily to serve those in need.”

Hill also noted that another aim of the event was to emphasize how quickly the situations need to be addressed, and to show how nonprofit groups are actually helping people who don’t have a home, in contrast to what is rumored. Statistics indicate that there is a rise in homelessness, but that rise is only about 24 people, and what goes unmentioned is the 3,000 people who have been helped.

Hill pointed out that in the past 12 months 1,700 people went from living in the street to having a place to live, thanks to the efforts of nonprofit collectives.

As for the organization that helped Solo Por Hoy become what it is today, La Fondita de Jesús, it has been serving the homeless and needy for nearly four decades -- 37 years, to be exact. It provides services to the community that range from food to basic needs: personal hygiene, home management and even health services.

“It is important to note at this moment that we are united to help those who are in need, creating projects that can respond to the needs of the homeless and at the same time that these projects can provide a home for those who do not have a home and those who are at risk of losing their home,” La Fondita de Jesús Executive Director Josué Maisonet told the STAR.

Meanwhile, a few people who were homeless themselves shared their life experience at the conference.

“I am currently in the process of getting my own apartment -- very grateful to Solo Por Hoy for helping me with everything,” Guillermo de León Figueroa said. “It is not easy living in the streets; you never know how you are going to survive the next day.”

Another panel participant, Javier Caseres, said “I never knew my parents. I do not know how to write and read.”

“I was an addict since I was 12 years old, so it was difficult for me to get paperwork done; it is very difficult for a person like me to get by, and sometimes the people who work in these organizations don’t have the time to help because they are too busy with work, so my advice to many professionals and organizations is to separate the time to help people like me to get the paperwork done,” Caseres stressed.

Hill said what comes next for the collective is to stay the course, continuing to raise awareness about people who are in the street and further educating the professionals who work in the field.

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