Two weeks ago, Marti Slater was worried she wouldn’t have enough volunteers. Now she’s afraid she might have too many — which is not a bad problem to have.
Slater has been putting together Project Homeless Connect — a one day event that will provide information, services and hospitality in a central location. The event will be held Wednesday at the Merit Inn from 10 a.m to 3 p.m.
“I guess connect is a really good word to use,” Slater said. “We want to connect with folks so we can really do something. It’s a lot more effective if you have folks working together instead of a whole bunch of different people working separately.
“My desire personally, is that the folks that come that day will leave with information and sustenance and hope,” Slater said.
Slater works for Love, INC as a clearinghouse coordinator, but she has been organizing the event on her own, with no funding from Love, INC. The problem with homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula, Slater said, is that it is not as visible here as it is in other parts of country or even Anchorage.
“I get calls every week from people that are living in their cars, living in tents, living in substandard housing — like summer cabins that have no heat, living in travel trailers,” Slater said.
The financial sponsorships, Slater said, come from Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Soldotna Rotary and donations from the community.
The event will provide opportunities for those looking for information and assistance.
“We’ll have employment services, CARTS, Cottonwood Health Center, Nakenu Family Center, Serenity House, housing information, public assistance, WIC, infant learning programs, social security and several others will be there,” Slater said. “We’ll have health services referrals and some of those folks will be taken to the public health department where they’ll receive services and information and (possibly) evaluations and such for dental services and medical needs.”
The event, Slater said, falls under the umbrella of Peninsula Continuum of Care, which is a planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for homeless families or an individual. Part of PCC’s task is to track and manage the homeless community in a particular area, Slater said. A point-in-time count takes place twice a year, Slater said. The count date for Alaska is Jan. 25. It is no accident that the event falls on the specified day, it will be used to provide the PCC with data on the homeless population for the Peninsula.
“There will be at least five cities holding these events in Alaska that I’m aware of,” Slater said. “Anchorage has been doing these for six or seven years, this is Kenai’s very first.”
“So we’re not inventing a new wheel, we’re just grabbing on to a spoke and going with it.”
Each attendee will be served a hot meal at The Way Cafe, which is located in the back of the Merit Inn, Slater said. Attendees will also receive a bag of food that has been donated by area churches, she said. There have also been 150 bags donated by Wal-Mart of groceries that will be handed out to participants.
Transportation will be provided to bring attendees from Soldotna, Sterling, Kasilof and Nikiski, Slater said.
With the event providing data on the homeless population on the Peninsula, Slater said the next step will be to how to move forward with planning the next connect event.
“We’ll begin looking (at the data) and planning the next event,” she said. “And look at what we can do about what we learned, we don’t know what that’s going to be — we don’t know what the snapshot is going to look like.”
The hope, Slater said, is to eventually have more shelter space on the Peninsula.
“We have very little shelter here. So that’s probably going to be one the things we really look at,” she said. “How can we make a difference in the housing, does it mean providing more shelters, does it mean finding finances for low income housing.”
Slater said the support from the community is what is allowing the event to happen.
“One thing we really hope that will come from this is to have several different people and agencies and groups that want to work to alleviate homelessness — or at least make it less of an issue will come to the table and work together,” she said.
Project Homeless Connect will be held Wednesday at the Kenai Merit Inn from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call Marti Slater at 283-5252.