For the last few years groups, agencies and individuals have been getting together to address the problem of homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula under the name of Homeless Connect. Several events have been held over the last few years to directly provide services to those in need. August 20th organizers of Homeless Connect held a public meeting at the Soldotna Library to recruit volunteers, increase awareness of the issue and plan the next event.
Cheri Smith, executive director for the Lee Shore Center in Kenai, Lisa Roberts with United Way and Jodi Stewart of the Soldotna Rotary Club presented before the group. “Tonight’s meeting is to let the public know that there is a homeless problem in our community and speak to the details and definitions of the issue. Being that the Peninsula is made up of so many rural communities homelessness looks different here than in urban areas. It may be couch surfing or staying with friends because they have to make a decision between paying rent, the light bill or buying groceries. The problem is growing and surfacing the more we look into it,” said volunteer Tom Janz who attended the meeting.
According to Janz at last January’s Homeless Connect event 86 families showed up, “The event met immediate needs, there was food, winter coats, boots and blankets. The hospital was there giving flu and tetanus shots, a volunteer hair stylist was giving free haircuts and Rotary was there to help people write there resume and get it on digital format, Social Security reps were there and all these agencies and vendors came together under one roof to help, it was a very successful event,” said Janz. He says the purpose of Homeless Connect in looking to the future is to prepare for a population influx to the area should the Alaska LNG project get under way, “Like when we had the boom from the oil pipeline we had many people spend their last dollar on a plane ticket to get here and then when they did couldn’t find places to stay. So we want to start preparing if and when another pipeline with the LNG plant is built in Nikiski to be able to provide for these folks. But right now we have many families living paycheck to paycheck and depending on the economy could be out of work and not know what to do,” said Janz.
The call for volunteers to help Homeless Connect and future events went out Wednesday night, “For those who couldn’t attend the meeting they can give Lisa Roberts a call at the local United Way office at 283-9500 and she will help you. Right now we need volunteers for the 8 standing committees that covers everything from transportation to vendors to hospitality or donations and logistics to help us put on the next event. It takes a lot of people to put this on,” said Janz.