Hundreds served at Project Homeless Connect
EVERETT — The halls were filled July 20 at Evergreen Middle School with hundreds of people, lots lugging backpacks, lunching in the cafeteria, and signing up at a multitude of booths at the ninth annual Project Homeless Connect.
But the crowd, many parents with kids in tow, others in wheelchairs and some solo, weren’t trying to find their way to classes, but to healing and replenishment from
the rigors of homelessness.
“There are so many ways an individual or family can fall into poverty that there isn’t one solution. And most
times, accessing these
services is difficult … By
bringing services together, Project Homeless Connect makes access and connection to get out of poverty easier,” said Allison Matsumoto, spokeswoman for the United Way of Snohomish County.
No one was turned away regardless of housing status and all services were free to anyone who signed up. Last year, among the 933 recorded attendees, 36 percent
reported being unsheltered or car camping, 21 percent reported staying in shelters or transitional housing, 20 percent were temporarily bunking with family or
friends and the rest in subsidized housing or facing imminent eviction, with a scant 2 percent reporting they were paying market rate in a
traditional housing arrangement, organizers reported.
One welcome connection was between a dentist and Jennifer Eidsvik, who battled a panic attack dealing with the crowds. Eidsvik and her boyfriend slept outdoors, she said, after spending the prior day in the emergency room.
Her struggles with a drug addiction had left their mark: “I couldn’t brush my teeth,” she said, “it was only the plaque holding them in.” Eidsvik said she never imagined being homeless and how hard it was, after helping homeless friends herself before a divorce from her ex-husband who had been financially supporting her.
The dentists, plus vision, medical and even chiropractic specialists all contributed, volunteering their time for everything from treating cavities to washing feet to checking heads for lice. Two massive mobile dental clinics brought the office to the patients, who were also able to make use of mobile showers, and receive $10 Orca transit cards and bike repairs to keep themselves mobile after the event.
Indeed, so many services were offered some people struggled just to sort them all out, though a squad of volunteers and maps were nearby for anyone wanting directions. Organizers also added a new type of helper this year, navigators, to help guide attendees through the dozens of offerings.
One searching family was the Stsurins. Mom Toni, who navigated from a wheelchair due to a leg amputation, and two of her three daughters including a 15-month old in a stroller, wended their way through the crowd, scoring stickers, lollipops and picture books for the little one, plus bags of toiletries, shoes for mom and a stack of serious literature for 17-year old Amaea. A Sno-Isle librarian didn’t bat an eye when Amaea said, “I usually like historical nonfiction,” but dug under a table and deftly pulled out Edwin Black’s “IBM and the Holocaust” among others.
Toni Stsurin was shopping for one more too, a baby boy due in two months. It was a pregnancy she said she thought was impossible, but added to her list of responsibilities. She was managing her health after a heart attack last year and trying to find stable housing for her family and boyfriend after an eviction a month prior.
The Stsurins were representative of the complex lives for many who came to Project Homeless Connect: while Toni and her youngest were homeless, her two older daughters were not.
While the Sturins hunted for shoes and other useful services, an estimated nearly 500 providers from approximately 100 agencies educated and waited on participants seeking long and short-term fixes, from registration for housing programs and social security benefit screening, to haircuts and family portraits. Assessments for mental health and substance abuse, plus assistance for veterans filing benefit claims were all also available.
Gary Walderman and a team from the Disabled American Veterans explained how they would hand deliver claims to the Veterans Administration offices. “Widows have trouble” with navigating the veteran’s benefit system and knowing what’s available, said Walderman, who said he’s also started seeing Vietnam veterans needing help with claims as more begin to see the effects of Agent Orange warfare chemicals.
Many participants took a break from navigating services to enjoy a hot meal of sausages or chicken with pasta, salad and hot vegetables. Unlike the school’s normal cafeteria lineup, though, volunteers served those meals restaurant style, taking orders and sharing smiles.
The event was a coordinated effort among numerous nonprofit, government and other altruistically minded agencies and funded largely with a $55,000 Boeing Company Employee’s Community Fund donation which provided for everything from volunteers’ sunny yellow T-shirts to mobile showers. Last year, $329,734 in goods and services plus an estimated $147,136 in volunteer labor were provided during the one-day event.
Volunteers from Salt of the Earth Ministries food bank in Everett capped the day for many with a cookie from nearly 2,000 of all types baked and bought for the occasion, including by volunteer Sandra Richards. “People are so appreciative, they are, and I love to love on them,” Richards said.
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