Volunteers staff the kitchen and buffet line at the Jan. 24, 2018, Project Homeless Connect at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The annual event gathers service providers, nonprofits and volunteers to support members of the homeless community and those in need. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Volunteers staff the kitchen and buffet line at the Jan. 24, 2018, Project Homeless Connect at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The annual event gathers service providers, nonprofits and volunteers to support members of the homeless community and those in need. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Project Homeless Connect comes to Homer for first time

An annual event held around the state to help those experiencing homelessness or near homelessness is making its debut on the lower Kenai Peninsula next week.

Project Homeless Connect is a one-day event held every January in communities including Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks during which people without a stable or consistent place to live can get access to winter clothes, haircuts and other supplies, as well as get connected with resources and organizations that can help them.

The event that takes place in Soldotna also serves as a count day to get a tally of the number of people experiencing homelessness on the peninsula. The more homeless individuals that are documented, the more federal funding the peninsula gets to combat homelessness from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Now making its way to Homer for the first time, Project Homeless Connect will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29 at the Homer United Methodist Church on East End Road. There, people who attend will get access to everything from flu shots and blood diabetes screenings to winter gear, backpacks, hygiene kits and free haircuts, according to a press release from Derotha Ferraro, director of marketing and public relations for South Peninsula Hospital.

Beyond physical things that they may need, those experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless can also use the one-stop-shop event to get connected with people in organizations that work with housing enrollment, employment, addiction treatment and Medicaid.

To accommodate those with children, free childcare is being provided at the event. There is also free transportation to and from the event for those who do not have a vehicle.

Jane Dunn, lower Kenai Peninsula liaison for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Students in Transition Program, will be one of the community resource representatives present at the event. The Students in Transition Program aims to identify students who are homeless, near homeless or living without their legal guardians and provide them with services through the district.

Dunn said she’ll be at Project Homeless Connect to hopefully connect with more families with children to potentially identify homeless students she doesn’t already know about. She will then be able to refer students in need to other sources of help they might need.

“The great thing is that everybody is right there in house,” she said.

For example, if a student in transition was in need of a lifeline phone, Dunn said she’ll be able to set them up with that paperwork the same day.

Dunn said the challenges faced by the homeless can be amplified for young people.

“There’s extra difficulties if you’re a young person,” she said. “If you’re under 18 years old, you don’t have the option of going to a hotel or signing a lease.”

Young homeless people are also at higher risk for human trafficking, Dunn said.

Project Homeless Connect coming to Homer is a step forward for the peninsula, Dunn said, because it will help curate a more accurate count and picture of the peninsula’s homelessness problem.

Those who would like to volunteer or otherwise help with Project Homeless Connect have a few different options. To volunteer, contact Cinda Martin at 907-435-0855. To make a financial or in-kind donation, contact Pastor Lisa Talbott at lisamarietalbott@gmail.com. For more information on booths for resource and service providers, contact Monica Anderson at 907-435-3231.

For those already in town, contact Kostas Taxi at 907-399-7267 to arrange pickup for free rides to and from Project Homeless Connect. This is for in-town locations only.

The free transportation pickup and drop off schedule is as follows:

Pickups From East End (look for the white van)

10 a.m./noon Fritz Creek Store

10:20 a.m./12:20 p.m. Cole’s Market

10:30 a.m./12:30 p.m. United Methodist Church

Returning to East End

2 p.m./4 p.m. United Methodist Church

2:10 p.m./4:10 p.m. Cole’s Market

2:30 p.m./4:30 p.m. Fritz Creek

Transport from Ninilchik, Happy Valley and Anchor Point (look for the BUMPS bus)

8:30 a.m. Ninilchik Traditional Council Building

8:45 a.m. Happy Valley Store

9 a.m. Anchor Point Cheeky Moose

9:30 a.m. United Methodist Church

Returning to Anchor Point, Happy Valley and Ninilchik

4 p.m. United Methodist Church

4:30 p.m. Anchor Point Cheeky Moose

4:45 p.m. Happy Valley Store

5 p.m. Ninilchik Traditional Council Building

To learn more about Project Homeless Connect, call (907) 420-4514 or send an email to kp_projecthomelessconnect@mail.com.

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