In an effort to do more than discuss the issue of homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula a group of local agencies and volunteers five years ago organized an event known as Project Homeless Connect. The event put “boots,” and services on the ground at one location where those in need could find a variety of help in one place at the same time. This year’s event held at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex was the largest event yet with 123 individuals who receiving assistance ranging in age range for men from 18 – 76 with an average age of 43. Age range for women was 17 – 76 with an average age of 34 according to Cheri Smith, executive director of the LeeShore Center. “The majority of the people that we served this year were new and for many it was the first time they had been to this event, so I think the committee that works on this event year round has done an excellent job on getting the word out early and through word of mouth is reaching more people who find themselves in need,” said Smith.
Rooms separated by pipe and drape allowed privacy for those who came to the event, “It can be a bit intimidating for folks who come in for the first time and we wanted to create a quiet confidential place where they can talk privately with an intake worker about their situation and their top three needs. Then they were assisted to service agencies who could help,” explained Smith. Jodi Stuart has been an organizer for Project Homeless Connect since the first event and said the program learned and as it grew, “We have evolved from being a state agency and service based event to being able to provide services that no one in need would ever believe they had time or the money to do. Having a haircut or having a massage is a luxury for these folks and they wouldn’t spend their money on if they are choosing between a meal or a roof over their head and sometimes can be the very encouragement or assistance that gives them the psychological boost they need to turn their life around and get back on track,” she said, “This year we had veterinarian services for folks with pets or service animals which are just as much a part of someone’s family as anyone else and again can be the helping hand needed. So that was a huge win for us this year and was greatly appreciated,” said Stuart.
Volunteers or companions throughout the day met and mentored those who came to the event, “It’s an important piece of Project Homeless Connect that is found to be successful across the nation is the human touch that says we are here humanity touching humanity because you matter,” added Stuart. Those who attended also completed an exit survey with the data gathered being used to compile a report that organizers can use to evaluate the effectiveness of the event and how it can be improved and more needs met in the future.