The VCU community reached out on Tuesday to the city’s homeless population to provide aid at the sixth annual Project Homeless Connect.
The event helped to provide medical care, dental care, vision screenings, mental health interviews, social security applications, employment resources and more for Richmond’s homeless population.
About 55 VCU students and faculty from the VCU School of Dentistry volunteered at the Richmond Convention Center, using their skills to give back to the community.
This year, VCU dental students saw about 65 patients and performed dental care for those in need free of charge. Project Homeless Connect is one of many community outreach projects VCU dental students are involved in throughout the year.
“This is my second year doing this particular project and I hate that we have to turn people away. It shows that there is a need in the community,” said Donna Cowherd, a patient care coordinator at VCU’s School of Dentistry.
Mary Catherine McGinn, a third-year student doctoral student studying for a degree in dental surgery, has been working with Project Homeless Connect since she was a pre-dental student in 2007.
“I think it’s so rewarding to help patients who don’t have access to this,” she said, noting that those in need don’t just get a cursory exam or a flossing, but a wide range of care. “At some projects we even do fillings,” McCain said.
The event was put together by Homeward, a Richmond-based organization specializing in helping the homeless population. According to the latest counts by Homeward, more than 900 people in the Richmond area are currently homeless. Of those, more than half claim some kind of long-term disability and only about a quarter of them are employed in any capacity.
Melanie Mcdonald, Homeward’s Operations Direction said events like Project Homeless Connect aren’t about just rendering services.
“While it helps people in need it’s also an opportunity for people in the community. It raises awareness,” she said.
About 400 people showed up at the Richmond Convention Center to get help filling out paperwork and to receive free medical and dental exams. Some received work that they’ve needed for years.
“I’m getting an extraction, I needed it yanked out a long time ago,” said Bryan David, who has been homeless for a number of years and did not have the money to have dental work done. He said he was grateful for the volunteers’ efforts.
“It’s great that they are helping, taking all their time to come in here and to help people in need,” David said.