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Project Homeless Connect, one-stop event for help, ceases

An Everett man gets his blood pressure checked by medical assistant Joe Sprague during the 2012 Project Homeless Connect event held at Cascade High School.

EVERETT — After nine seasons of providing a one-stop service hub for low-income people, Project Homeless Connect (PHC) is closing its doors. At the same time, officials connected with the event say more resources are available to the same groups year-round.
A coalition of government, nonprofit and business agencies put on the annual summer event, with logistical leadership provided in recent years by the United Way of Snohomish County.
Many factors contributed to the decision to end the event, said United Way spokeswoman Allison Matsumoto.
Event organizers had not secured a leader, funding or a venue for the event by the time the cancellation was announced in March.
PHC served between 900 to 1,300 people each of the last five years. Attendees could sign up for housing, veteran’s benefits, medical treatment, mental health services and much more. Those in need found everything from a hot meal to haircuts, shoes, family photos, and backpacks full of school supplies at the summer assembly. Everything was free.
The unique element of Project Homeless Connect was in its name: it linked approximately 90 service providers at one location with people who often lack easy access to transportation or even phone service.
None of the public or nonprofit agencies involved had the capacity to helm the project, Matsumoto said. PHC required approximately $70,000 in funding, more than 150 volunteers, and provided nearly $330,000 in in-kind goods and services last year.
In addition, last year’s event venue, Evergreen Middle School, was not available.
The Boeing Employees Community Fund (ECF) provided major event funding in past years, including $55,000 last year. Matsumoto said a letter of intent was sent to the organization in January, but the process did not progress.
“Boeing ECF did not decline a funding request to support this program,” wrote
Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman in an email. “The decision for United Way to discontinue the event was in no way connected to a funding a decision from ECF, as there was never an application or process for potential funding.”
Matsumoto said the lack of guaranteed funding was not the cause of the event’s cancellation, but rather a multitude of issues contributed.
Without the key elements in place, organizers took the opportunity to pause and reassess the landscape 10 years after the event began.
The City of Everett was one of several event partners. Hil Kaman, Everett’s Director of Public Health and Safety, said “There are so many services that exist now that didn’t then ... (and) People need those on an ongoing basis and that’s where we should be putting our effort,” Kaman said.
Kaman pointed to numerous initiatives including social workers embedded within the Police Department, the Safe Streets Plan, increased human needs spending, and the planned Snohomish County Carnegie housing and resource center.
He also shared about several agencies addressing needs PHC did, including Everett Faith in Action and MercyWatch.
Even those school backpacks full of supplies will still be available: Kaman said the YWCA was assembling them and will find a way to distribute them.
Snohomish County, another event partner, was advised of the cancellation after the decision was made, said the county executive’s spokesman Kent Patton in an email. The county is focusing on long term solutions including affordable housing plus discussing potential new events, Patton said.
Matsumoto also said the focus was shifting from the singular event to year-round, sustainable services. In addition, it is focusing its resources on homeless youth through age 8 and their families, and that group made up only 10 percent of PHC attendees according to the United Way website.
The United Way lists several alternative events on its website and continues to update it.
“We want to make sure you’re not just giving folks one day,” Matsumoto said.
Next up from the agency is a May 5 Youth and Family Wellness Fair at Evergreen Middle School. The event offers dental checks, haircuts, educational workshops, food, music and family activities.
Matsumoto and Kaman both also spoke about how PHC was initiated to help increase awareness of homelessness and they agree awareness is much higher today. Homelessness is high on priority lists for the city, county, and local agencies, leaders say. Forums and services have also increased since the event’s inception.
“How do you now make those connections: How do you get organizations to lead the charge to make sure those access points are highlighted in the community,” Matsumoto said is the question. She said the United Way is committed to answering it.


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