Close to 100 people experiencing homelessness in the Homer area got help recently at a one-day event designed to get them supplies while connecting them with services to help lift them up to a more stable living situation.
Homer held its very first Project Homeless Connect on Jan. 29 at Homer United Methodist Church, where organizations grouped together to offer supplies such as winter clothes and sleeping bags and services like housing assistance and veterans support.
Project Homeless Connect is an event held around the country. Other Alaska communities from Anchorage to Soldotna have been holding them for several years, but this was the first time Homer offered the one-day, one-stop service to the community.
Lindsey Collins is Kenai Peninsula Children’s Advocacy Centers & SART Coordinator at South Peninsula Haven House, the official data collection point for Homer. There were 97 people who signed in at Project Homeless Connect to receive services, she said in an email.
Collins noted that this was just the number of people who signed in and were able to be tracked by volunteers. There were other people who came in to get services or supplies who chose not to sign in, she said.
Seventy people also completed the intake forms at Project Homeless Connect, which is a process that helped volunteers best determine which services or organizations would be most helpful to those people. The intake forms help identify a given homeless person’s most immediate needs.
Of those 70 people, 16 were age 18 or younger and were counted as dependents. Eight people who were under the age of 24 self-identified as the heads of their households, Collins wrote.
Organizer Cinda Martin said that people in the Homer community have known for years that there’s a significant homeless population. Project Homeless Connect offers an opportunity to use hard numbers to reflect what’s going on in the area.
“We know they’re there,” she said of working with the Homer Food Pantry, which serves people in need.
Event organizers offered free transportation from East End Road into town for the event, as well as from Ninilchik. Martin said no one came in on the bus from Ninilchik, but said that some homeless people in that area may have gone north to the same event being held in Soldotna.
In addition to providing the homeless with free haircuts, hygiene products, food, clothing and services, Project Homeless Connect also serves as a “count day.” The tally of people who come to utilize the services is used to get a snapshot of what the homeless population in any given area looks like, which can be difficult in rural Alaska towns where homelessness does not necessarily manifest in the way many people assume it does. People are more likely to couch surf or stay with friends, especially during winter, than they are to stand out on the street corner with a sign.
Getting more accurate counts of homeless and near-homeless populations is important because it helps determine how much funding communities get to pay for solutions to homelessness. The tally from the count day is submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which distributes federal funds to communities combatting homelessness.
“It’s not about having the event and having all the services in one place just one day, because (homelessness) doesn’t go away after today,” Martin said. “And so we’re really hoping that we can get that count, get people that will give us that information that we need in order to include them in that count, and then it goes to HUD. … It affects how much (funding) comes back to our community, because the southern Kenai hasn’t gotten a whole lot of anything.”
Organizers of Homer’s Project Homeless Connect will now go through the data they collected and form an official report on the event.
“The next step for us is to take this data and … qualify and quantify what the need is,” Martin said. “And then our group and whoever else would like to be a part of it can go to that next step and say, ok, we need a shelter, we need housing first.”
According to Collins, the local organizations that were present at the event to offer their services were:
• Independent Living Center
• Homer Food Pantry
• Kenai Peninsula College/Adult Education
• Nine Star
Department of Labor
Division of Public Assistance
Alaska Housing Finance Corporation
South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services
Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse
South Peninsula Haven House
Sprout Family Services
Homer Public Health
KPBSD Students in Transition
SVT Health & Wellness
Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic
Ninilchik Traditional Council
SPH Nursing Students
Kachemak Bay Lions Club
Set Free Alaska
Department of Veterans Affairs
South Peninsula Hospital
Clippership Barber Shop
Independent Hair Stylist Jamie Braby