Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Rose Bezilla gives Anthony Griglione, of Soldotna, a massage during the third annual Project Homeless Connect at the Kenai Mall, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014 in Kenai. Bezilla joined several other volunteers who served the area's homeless population and connected them with a variety social service agencies.

Homeless Connect held at Soldotna Sports Center

The fourth annual Homeless Connect Event will be held Thursday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

The event is produced by a coalition of local action groups, led this year by the United Way’s executive director Lisa Roberts. Roberts said that the organizations involved include the LeeShore Center, Kenai Peninsula Community College, the Bishop’s Attic thrift store, and the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. The organizers will gather a variety of aid workers at the sports center to provide free services for those struggling to escape homelessness and those struggling to avoid it.

These services will include haircuts and massages, food, medical and mental health care, the distribution of donated clothing, and information regarding housing, public benefits, employment services, resume creation and job interviewing, disability resources, and veteran services.

Roberts said that approximately 60 people attended last year’s event.

“This year we’re expecting more,” Roberts said. “Homelessness doesn’t necessarily go away. With the hardness of the economy and a lot of things that are going around, a lot of people are one paycheck away from being homeless. We see that it’s not really getting any better.”

In addition to providing services, the event will contribute to the knowledge of its nation-wide parent organization, Project Homeless Connect. Upon arrival, attendees fill out information sheets to help generate statistics on the scope and nature of the homeless problem.

“The reason we do this event is to get some numbers,” said Roberts. “The numbers that we collect here go into a major database throughout the country, so that (Project Homeless Connect) can keep track of what they think is going on. Homelessness is difficult because there are so many variables to it.”

Roberts said that identifying these variables is important for both awareness of the problem and for finding solutions.

“We put it into a format where we can put it out into the public,” Roberts said. “It also goes to the housing authorities, so that they can keep track of these numbers as well. It’s all about the numbers.”

When asked how many volunteers are involved in the event, Roberts replied “hundreds.” She said that donations the group had received were also abundant.

“We just went through a hundred garbage bags of donated clothing,” said Roberts. “There were 16 of us, and it took us an hour and a half to get through all the donations that were given to us. And some of that stuff still has the tags on it. Beautiful.”

Roberts said that the problem of homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula will require increased attention in the future.

“We want this event to get bigger every year,” Roberts said. “Because I’m with United Way, I want to see this event grow into the south peninsula and the north peninsula so we’ve got all our bases covered. I really would like to see Homer have one of these events, and I’d like to see one in Seward as well.”

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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