Project Homeless Connect assists thousands

Shelter, healthcare, childcare and food: the homeless in Alaska have limited access to these simple conveniences. Several groups in Anchorage are working to make these amenities available.

There are over 3,000 homeless in Anchorage at any given time. 40 percent of these are families with children. The average age of a homeless person is under 10 years.

“People think that the face of homelessness (is) the individuals holding a sign. Yes, that is a part of it, but it is a very small part,” Trevor Storrs said, executive director of Alaska Aids Assistance.

When families are troubled with homelessness, finding the services that any average person with a home can take for granted becomes nearly impossible. This is why Project Homeless Connect came to Anchorage.

As part of Anchorage’s 10-year plan to address homelessness, Project Homeless Connect is a “one day, one stop event with services provided to the homeless,” according to Kathi Trawver, UAA professor of social work.

“It is very grass roots,” Trawyer said. “We rely on civic engagement, the community and volunteers.”

The project, which occurred Jan. 27, served over 750 people. Haircuts, childcare, legal services, housing opportunities, food stamps and substance abuse counseling were all offered for the homeless in the same day at the Egan Center.

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“These are people who are literally down on their luck,” Trawver said. “There are many young families with children.”

Mayor Dan Sullivan supports the cause and the potential it carries.

“An event like (Project Homeless Connect) is a perfect solution,” Sullivan said. “(It offers) the basics to help get people back on their feet.”

In January, over 600 reading glasses were given away; a hot meal was served as if at a restaurant and haircuts were given for free.

“There are many faces to homelessness, and you see them all,” Trawver said.

She and students studying social work volunteered at the event. Because of the accreditation process, Trawver could not attend the last event, but her students went anyway. Some even organized the knitting of over 300 scarves to give to the homeless.

“You really feel like you have done something after volunteering there,” Trawver said.

Aside from volunteering, Trawver and her students collected data on what was really needed by the homeless, what was used and if everyone’s needs were met at the event. A follow up survey showed that most of the people applying for housing at the event ended up not finding a place to live.

“There was a disconnect after the event,” Trawver said.

In San Francisco, where Project Homeless Connect originates, short-term case management is offered to the homeless. This is intended to ensure that after the event the homeless are still getting help.

“Our goal for the future in Anchorage is to connect better after the event has ended,” Trawver said.

Attendance at the Egan Center for the project was the highest it has ever been. The state was required to undergo a homeless census, using the event as a means of counting. More homeless than ever are on Anchorage’s streets.

“In the winter we get many more in attendance than in the summer,” Trawver said.

Over 1,200 individuals have been served in the four events in Anchorage. Less than 15 percent of those people have come back through for a second time.

“That means people are being attached to services and not coming back because they already have that service,” Storrs said.