By Jenny Neyman
It’s a little hard to say what the best-case scenario for Project Homeless Connect would be.
One of the organizers, Lisa Roberts, said they had more people than ever come to the fourth annual event, held at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Thursday.
“I think we’re busier this year than we were last year. A lot more people coming through,” she said. “We have served so many people we have run out of sandwiches, so we have had to go to store and buy bread and meat and cheese so that we can get everybody fed because that’s the one thing, I don’t want anybody going away from here hungry today.”
But, ultimately, Roberts would rather have no one show up because no one in the community was homeless. That’s unfortunately not the case.
“We do know that there is a lot of things going on around us, that we’ve had a lot of words of layoffs and that sort of thing from different big corporations, so I think that could be a part of it,” Roberts said.
As the name implies, Project Homeless Connect links people lacking adequate housing with a variety of services. Those in need can come speak to representatives of various agencies and nonprofit organizations that help with housing, food, mental and physical health, disabilities, transportation, employment, child care and much more. This year they added a veterinarian to give vaccines to service animals, as well as a musician proving some background ambiance.
The clothing donations were a hit.
“I’ve seen a lot of wonderful people here today. It’s been really good,” said Janet Anderson, who was volunteering to help match the donated items with attendees. “Lot of coats today, people have really went through a lot of coats and I’m just amazed at community help that we’ve had.”
The booths offering haircuts and massages were occupied nonstop.
“Constant. I had to tell somebody, ‘I’ll be right back, I have to go to the bathroom,’” said Trista Cavallo, one of the volunteer hair cutters.
Cavallo lives in Idaho now, but was back on the central Kenai Peninsula for a visit when her friends asked her to come along and help out.
“It doesn’t cost me anything to cut hair so why not do it for free for people who need it?” she said.
She knew one of her customers, John, from Ministry of the Living Stones Church in Sterling. She gave him a bit of grief as well as a trim.
“I thought about shaving it all and then just giving him a comb-over,” she said.
“A Donald Trump look?” said John’s wife, Dre.
“Yeah,” Cavallo said, while John good-naturedly sat through their teasing.
Cavallo had had mostly men in her chair that day, just looking to lift their ears a bit, but the hair-cutting booths were equipped with hair dryers, curling irons, straightening irons and product for men and women to style as well as shorten. Or whatever else someone might need.
“We’ll trim anything you want us to trim. Well, maybe. Within reason,” Cavallo said, saying she’d already trimmed some nose hairs for a gentleman. “And then I was shaving some ears and the guy’s like, ‘Whoa, what are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘You’ve got hair there. I’m getting it.’”
John’s wife, Dre, came to the event to see about Social Security benefits, as she’s currently unemployed. She’s worked in fast food, delivered newspapers and worked in canneries, among other things.
“I used to pull the 300-pound halibuts off conveyor belts at Dragnet when they were open. Hence the reason why my back is so bad,” Dre said.
They live in a 30-foot motorhome in Sterling, which Dre doesn’t consider homeless. But she does appreciate the event.
“There’s people way worse off than us. Way worse. I think it is an awesome thing trying to help the people get off the street, help the people get into housing, help them find a job, just helping people is what it all entails,” she said.
Briana Hoge was homeless as of Sunday. The house she was renting in Kenai exploded and caught on fire following a natural gas leak caused by the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that shook Southcentral. She was letting a friend, her friend’s boyfriend and two kids stay with her, and they all got out safely.
“I literally felt the house lift up and you could hear it go, ‘Boom.’ I mean, it was just the loudest ‘Boom’ I’ve ever heard in my life. It sounded like a cannon going off,” Hoge said. “The house set back down and that was when we all started running out of the house, we all knew something wasn’t right. Nobody got injured, that’s the best thing. By grace of God, that’s the only thing I can say is by the grace of God.”
She lost everything in the fire and came to Project Homeless Connect to see about housing.
“Luckily, this is right around the corner and we’re able to get help and get benefits and things that we need to get rolling,” Hoge said.
With situations like that, it looks like the need for Project Homeless Connect will never go away. Roberts hopes that the same can be said for support of the program. There’s an account set up through Bridges Community Resources for anyone who wants to donate.