Project Homeless Connect 2020 has just about everything it needs to be a success, but it’s missing volunteers.
Organizers for the project met on Tuesday at the Independent Living Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road to discuss what is still needed for the event in terms of supplies, services and volunteers. During the discussion, it was made clear that more volunteers are needed to fill in the gaps, especially as companions for the participants.
Project Homeless Connect is an annual event in Soldotna that provides a one-stop shop for those experiencing or who are at risk of homelessness. During the event, community members can come in for a free meal, blankets, clothes, diapers, shower and laundry vouchers, haircuts and a number of other services all provided at no cost. Similar events occur in other parts of Alaska, including Anchorage and Juneau, and this year events will be taking place in Homer and Seward to cover the entire peninsula.
Upon arrival to the event, participants are asked to fill out a survey asking for information regarding the size of their household, how long they have been homeless, their reason for becoming homeless and other demographic information that is used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assess the extent of the homelessness problem in the region.
After intake is complete, a volunteer companion is assigned to each participant to walk them through the event and help them find all the resources to meet their specific needs, whether it is getting food and a collar for their pet, substance abuse treatment, veteran’s services or anything else offered throughout the day. Beth Selby, volunteer chair for Project Homeless Connect, said that as of now she only has three volunteers who have agreed to be a companion for the whole day. Volunteers can sign up for part of the day or all day, and volunteers are needed to run the food pantry and clothing booths as well.
Kathy Gensel, co-chair of the event’s steering committee, said that Skyview Middle School’s Student Council had offered to volunteer for the day, and Gensel suggested that the youth volunteers run the food pantry and clothing booths.
Another part of the discussion revolved around supplying enough food for the day. Jodi Stuart, publicity chair for the event, said that this year she wanted to encourage more of the community to come out and have lunch, even if they aren’t in need of other services.
“It is always our hope that we break the stigma of those individuals that we serve on a day-to-day basis,” Stuart said. “And the only way we can do that is if we have normal, regular Joe Blows and Jane Does come in, have a seat, and have a conversation with people and found out how they got to where they are, the things they like, the things they hate. You know, the things that make them people. We need to bring the humanity into it.”
To that end, the organizers plan to have enough food to feed about 400 people. Between donations of soups, salads and sandwiches from the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and local businesses like Odie’s Deli in Soldotna, they expect to have plenty to go around. Some of the organizers recommended having vegetarian and gluten-free options so that those with restrictive diets will still have the opportunity to eat.
Project Homeless Connect will take place on Jan. 29 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Those who wish to volunteer can contact Stuart at 907-283-3125.