In this 2016 file photo, volunteer hairdresser Joy Conner (left) curls the hair of Alison Alley during Project Homeless Connect, an event at which local individuals and organizations provided information and services to the Kenai Peninsula community members experiencing homelessness. This year’s event will once again provide haircuts, massages, food, and veterinary care on Jan. 24 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

In this 2016 file photo, volunteer hairdresser Joy Conner (left) curls the hair of Alison Alley during Project Homeless Connect, an event at which local individuals and organizations provided information and services to the Kenai Peninsula community members experiencing homelessness. This year’s event will once again provide haircuts, massages, food, and veterinary care on Jan. 24 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Connecting the community with care

Project Homeless Connect isn’t just about a haircut and a shower.

It’s about creating an environment where those experiencing homelessness — who can often feel discarded, unwanted or unloved — feel like they matter, Jodi Stuart, media chairperson for Project Homeless Connect, said.

“You matter and we care about you today,” she said. “And we care about you more than you think anybody probably does.”

Happening at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Wednesday, the event is a collaborative effort of state and local social service organizations, nonprofits and volunteers to reach out to those experiencing homelessness and connect them to a number of housing, support and quality-of-life resources.

Volunteers “show up in droves” to help at the event, not just to help connect attendees to services, but to provide emotional support and help, Stuart said.

“They’re there to make sure that everybody has someday they can talk to,” Stuart said.

Approximately 30 vendors will provide help during the event and offer everything from hair cuts, massages, medical and veterinarian care to resources on substance abuse, housing, veterans support, job and public assistance.

“Anything and everything under the sun,” Stuart said.

Attendees will also have access to clothing, food, phones, showers and laundry facilities.

Now in its seventh year, the annual project is organized as a partnership between the Kenai Peninsula Continuum of Care — a network of local organizations who provide services to the homeless — and the Kenai Peninsula Project Homeless Connect Sub-committee.

While the number of people reached at the event has been about 200 for the last three years — 189 people in 2015, 213 people in 2016 and 203 people in 2017 — the number of newcomers to the event increased significantly last year. That could mean the project is getting the word out more effectively, Stuart said, or that the need is greater.

Stuart said the coalition has been handing out business cards with details of the event to law enforcement and leaving fliers at public spaces like the library to let people know about the event. Throughout the day on Wednesday, Alaska Cab will provide shuttles or those needing a ride to the event.

Project Homeless Connect will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Wednesday at the Soldotna Sports Complex.

Reach Clarion reporter Erin Thompson at erin.thompson@peninsulaclarion.com.

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