New London - More than 200 people gathered in the parking lot of the Faith Fellowship Church Sunday afternoon before walking almost three miles to benefit the city's homeless.
Before the New London Homeless Hospitality Center's sixth Annual Walk for the Homeless began, children and a few adults used hula hoops as music blared through the speakers. College students sat in a circle on the pavement, texting and talking, while other participants sat at picnic tables eating food from General Spot Soul Food Kitchen and Rita's Water Ice.
The $20 entry fee paid by the walkers will benefit the homeless shelter, which is "geared toward helping people get back on their feet" and into permanent housing, according to Kimberly Yu, who helped organized Sunday's event.
Frank and Pam Maletz of East Lyme attended the walk for the first time this year with their Yorkshire terrier, Chloe.
Frank Maletz, a surgeon at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, said that he and his co-workers take care of a number of homeless people when they're hurt or exposed to the elements.
"It would be nice to see them have a home," said Maletz, noting that many come to the emergency room with hypothermia in the winter.
The center provides rental subsidies for three people who were both chronically homeless and frequent visitors to the emergency room. The program, which is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, reduced those peoples' ER visits from 48 to eight.
After the success of that program, HUD selected the center to participate in a pilot program that will allow it to add 10 more units for individuals with high medical costs.
Homelessness is "an area I think we should do a better job with as a nation," said Judy Leary. She attended the walk with her friend and colleague, Dawn Mingione, and Mingione's 11-year-old daughter Erin.
Leary and Mingione are both visiting nurses who heard about Sunday's walk through an email from a fellow nurse. Around 30 visiting nurses were in attendance Sunday, said Mingione.
The center serves as both an overnight shelter and a daytime "hospitality center," which provides services such as computer and shower access and a safe place to store medicine and important records. The daytime center also helps put visitors in touch with contacts who can help them get out of homelessness.
Sam Isa, who volunteers at the center's overnight shelter, said he became involved with the organization because of his concern about the "considerable number of homeless" in New London. According to its 2012 annual report, the center's beds were occupied 20,550 times that fiscal year.
Sunday's walk was organized in part by students in Connecticut College's Program in Community Action.