The fourth annual Pacific County Project Homeless Connect, coordinated by Peninsula Poverty Response, will take place Thursday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the BPOE 1937 Elks Lodge at 110 Pacific Highway in Long Beach. And this year there is, for the first time, a North County Homeless Connect the following day, Friday, Jan. 27, at the Willapa Chamber of Commerce, Community Center, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 916 West First Street in South Bend.

That’s a big bundle of data, but what’s important about it is what it provides our community members. This year’s coordinator Bill Buck said, “When you do a one-day event like this it takes three months of planning. To pull this off we need a lot of volunteers. We’ve had probably a dozen meetings or so and recruited 70 people so far for this important event.”

Bill and his wife Gloria have lived on the Peninsula for seven years and pretty quickly after arriving they saw the need and jumped into many community service roles. “Marlene Quillin and the Chinook Observer had been handing out backpacks of school supplies and she put out the word for help. So Gloria and I have done that for the past four years. I think ‘Pack to School’ has helped around 1,600 kids.

“Then I started working with Pastor Adrienne on the Pacific Poverty Response and we watched OWL grow. And this is the second year I’ve coordinated Homeless Connect.”

When I asked Bill about the reasons for his community service, he cut to the chase. “Well, I could go back 31 years. I’m a recovering alcoholic and that’s when I hit my bottom.” He had the courage to face his challenges and got the help he needed to turn himself around. “I’ve been involved in service work ever since.”

So what exactly is Project Homeless Connect and who is it for? The organizing concept is in some way like a job fair. For one day, all the services that a struggling homeless individual or low-income family might need are gathered together in one place.

Do you need a haircut or a beard trim? Kady Kirby (from Azure) or Kathryn Burr have their shears ready. What about dental work, which is always costly and never part of health insurance coverage? The Family Health Center will be ready with a list of dentists and referral numbers. Flu shot? You can get one when you stop by. Do you need to renew your driver’s license? Someone from the Department of Licensing will be ready to answer your questions, help you get an ID, or give you advice about reinstating an expired license. Do you think you or someone in your family might need mental health counseling? C’mon in.

The list goes on and on. Eye-glasses? The friendly optometry specialists from Pacific Eye Clinic will be there to give you an eye exam and make sure you get glasses. As Bill says, “At last year’s eye clinic, 29 of our guests needed glasses and received a free exam. Then one of our venders provided them with glasses so they could see! Some of these folks would break down in tears when they put the glasses on.” (In fifth grade it was finally determined that I needed glasses. I still remember the life-changing moment when I put them on and looked around, “The trees have leaves!”)

This is still only scratching the surface on what is available to folks who stop by the event. There are “tangible goods” too, free to whomever needs them: socks, rain boots, hats, coats, toiletries and personal cosmetic items, sleeping bags, tents, tarps, and backpacks. There will be pregnancy screening available. The Seaview Oceanside Animal Clinic is providing animal care for people who have pets that need attention.

They really have thought of everything. Childcare will be provided. Not only that, but as Bill says, “There is a very thorough intake process. Every guest that comes to the event has his or her own personal guide, someone who can take them to whatever provider they need.”

Technically “homeless” depends on the agency and the definition. There is an annual “Point in Time Count” that, as Pacific County Human Services Program manager Katie Lindstrom writes, “Considers people as homeless if they are literally living outside and/or living in a shed or other building without utilities. But the schools also consider kids who are couch-surfing as homeless. The requirements on how the point in time count is compiled versus the school homeless counts are dictated by the state and federal government.” It looks like we had 190 official homeless individuals in Pacific County in 2016. But the number is undoubtedly higher.

As Bill says, many individuals and families who are making-do in substandard housing. We’ve all seen the run-down trailers and may even know someone more-or-less trapped in an ill-repaired or improperly maintained building with mold or other health hazards.

As Wellspring Coalition Coordinator, Vinessa Karnofski says, “It’s not just the people you may see walking along the road that are considered homeless. Prohject Homeless Connect is for anyone who needs a little extra help. And none of this would be possible without the support of everyone. Our community is so generous!”

Nora LeBlanc, Program Manager for Coastal Community Action Program in Aberdeen, is coordinating the first north county Project Homeless Connect. “We’re thrilled to be able to run our own event this year,” she said. “We’ve known that transportation has been a problem for our north county folks. Many have had a hard time getting to the south county event. So this is a first for us! We want to find the homeless and meet them where they are. And we can help with permanent housing or rental referrals. We’ll have personal supplies to give away and a hot meal will be served.”

When I ask Bill what the best part is about the community work he and others do, he doesn’t hesitate. “It’s heartwarming. What I’m doing is just putting out the fires to make sure everything runs smoothly. But I also see how happy our volunteers are. They might be a little scared when they first come but when they act as guides to our guests, they stay with them as long as they need to. They sit down and have a meal with them. They have a chance to interact and they realize it could be them that needs help one day. We’re all in this together.”

If you are interested in either donating or volunteering for the south county event, call Mitzi Pothier at 360-574-3769 or visit www.peninsulapovertyresponse.com. For the north county event, call Nora LeBlanc at 360-589-9094.

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