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Mar 05 2014

‘Homeless Connect’ serves about 200

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WASILLA — Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that slightly fewer people received help at this year than last at the annual Mat-Su Valley Project Homeless Connect event.

About 200 people registered as homeless at the fourth annual Homeless Connect event Jan. 29 at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla. That’s eight fewer than last year when 208 Valley residents were served.

New this year, Homeless Connect volunteers also were stationed at kiosks at Palmer and Wasilla Carrs stores and at the Palmer Three Bears to extend the reach of the event, said Laurie Kari, director of Family Promise Mat-Su.

The Mat-Su event Wednesday was one of five Homeless Connect events around the state this week, according to Scott Ciambor, director of the Alaska Coalition of Housing and Homelessness. Anchorage, Kodiak, Ketchikan and Sitka also organized Homeless Connect events.

The idea is to create an event that is a one-stop shop for a wide variety of resources that might help people who are homeless or on the verge of losing housing, he said.

Beyond connecting people to the more than 40 various agencies and nonprofits at the event, Ciambor said the secondary purpose is to get a count of the number of homeless people in the Valley. He said that number is used by the Housing and Urban Development to make funding decisions.

“The Mat-Su Project is fantastic because of the level of support from the whole community,” Ciambor said. “There’s a lot of compassion in this room today.”

Dave Rose, director of the Mat-Su Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, said some of the help offered Wednesday was immediate, like providing a hot meal, clothing, haircuts, massages, food, veterans services and some medical care.

“We added several new agencies this year,” he said.

Rose said the state also was on-hand offering driver licensing and birth certificate services. He said lack of ID is often a barrier for homeless people.

Even just getting to the event is difficult for many people, he said.

To break through that barrier, MASCOT, Sunshine Clinic, Chickaloon and Knik tribal councils also helped provide free transportation to the Menard center in Wasilla.

Rose said more than 60 people used the service this year, about twice the number from last year.

Every year the ripples of kindness reach farther into the community, he said.

A partial sum of this kind tally includes feeding lunch to 175 people; giving haircuts to between 65 and 70 people; giving away two tons of clothing; and sharing $2,000 in high protein foods and fresh fruit with people whose food budgets likely doesn’t include such luxuries.

One of the biggest supports for the past four years has been the city of Wasilla, Rose said.

“They believe in it so much, the city of Wasilla donated the whole Menard center again this year,” he said.

MY House president Michelle Overstreet said she brought 15 of the homeless youth served by that organization to experience the love and connect with needed services.

She said her kids were able to access some services, such as counseling screening, that ordinarily had conflicted with their schedules.

Representatives from the Palmer and Wasilla senior centers were there, too, connecting information with people.

Wasilla Area Seniors Inc. representatives said they were there to help connect people with senior housing and to share information about the senior center and the meals, fitness and other services it offers.

“We’re encouraging people to come on down,” said Claudia Dolfi, development and activity coordinator at the Wasilla Senior Center.

She said getting involved at the center is a great way to prevent the feeling of isolation many seniors experience. And it’s not just for seniors, Dolfi said. Volunteers of all ages frequent the center.

“There’s something there for everyone,” she said.

Sue Ann Smith, office manager at Mat-Su Senior Services, the senior center in Palmer, was also on hand with Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend applications, Santa Cop and Heroes registration forms, help with Medicare and Medicaid and filing for a new drug plan, and information about the heating assistance program.

That the total number of people helped this year dropped slightly may be the fault of John Rozzi, chief executive officer for Valley Charities Inc. That group received a grant to help prevent homelessness, which has proven a very deft tool in the effort, he said.

Since the grant was received July 1, 2012, more than 1,500 people have received help through a consortium of agencies, including Access Alaska; Alaska Family Services; BloodNFire Ministries; Daybreak Inc.; Family Promise Mat-Su; Salvation Army; and Valley Charities.

Rozzi said the grant funds could go directly to help with propane, utilities or to help prevent evictions. He said it’s much more cost-effective to focus on preventing homelessness than trying to intervene after someone is homeless.

“You can keep someone in a home for a fraction of what it would cause to re-house them,” Rozzi said.

Contact Heather A. Resz at 352-2268 or heather.resz@frontiersman.com.

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