SIUE students join community to create opportunity for area homeless

SIUE students joined the Madison County Partnership to End Homelessness to host Project Homeless Connect at St. John Evangelical United Church of Christ in Collinsville on January 28, 2015.

SIUE students and faculty helped host Project Homeless Connect at the St. John Evangelical United Church of Christ in Collinsville. (Photo courtesy of Jayme Swanke)

The annual event connected local people experiencing homelessness to social services including housing, counseling, employment, disability support and domestic violence services. Participants were also treated to a hot meal and a food bag. In addition to meeting social service providers, participants also could shop a special general store which was stocked with hats, scarves, hygiene bags, shoes and toys.

Event preparers had to meet the challenge of identifying, locating and transporting the area’s homeless. SIUE professor Jayme Swanke said homeless people are not always easy to identify.

“I think we have a stereotype of who experiences homelessness,” Swanke said. “In our county it’s typically families with young children. People who have fallen on hard times because they have lost their job, or they got behind on their rent because they had a medical crisis.”

Seven SIUE social work grad students created a marketing campaigning for the event and flyers were posted at area bus stops to help spread the word. Local social service providers also helped identify people may be experiencing homelessness.

The graduate students also helped plan and coordinate the project by securing social service vendors and recruiting volunteers. In addition to creating the marketing campaign, the students created training videos for volunteers, collected donations, and fund raised for the event. Hundreds of hats and scarves, 100 food bags and 75 pairs of shoes were donated for the event. The food bags were donated from Collinsville Area Ministerial Association’s Helping Hands ministry and the shoes were collected by local Catholic charities. The SIUE Early Childhood Center ran a coat drive in preparation for the annual event, for which preparations began in August.

Swanke said about 50 students from the Social Work department volunteered for the event and some students from the Psychology Department also participated.

“I think it’s a really eye-opening experience for our students because it really dispels a lot of the stigma that we have surrounding this issue,” Swanke said. “And it opens your eyes to a different population that you weren’t familiar with before.”

The hot meals were donated by Alfonzo’s Pizza in Troy, Dewey’s Pizza in Edwardsville and Ravanelli’s restaurant in Granite City.

Students who are interested in participating in Project Homeless Connect can email Dr. Swanke at for more information.



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