Project Homeless Connect Holds First Event

By Beacon Staff

More than 40 agencies and groups have come together to organize the Flathead Valley’s first annual Project Homeless Connect event on June 9 to provide a helping hand for the region’s homeless population.

Due to the recession, this population increasingly includes working-class families suffering from layoffs and financial woes. Homeless transients, youths and veterans are also expected to take part in the event. According to coordinators, there were approximately 500 homeless people in the region in January, of which the majority were families.

In total, coordinators are expecting around 200 homeless people to attend, though the number could be as high as 600, said Galen Amy, development director at Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana (CAP) in Kalispell.

It’s held on Wednesday June 9 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Samaritan House’s administration building – the old armory across the street from Peterson Elementary School – at 1110 Second Street West in Kalispell.

Project Homeless Connect started in San Francisco in 2004 as a way to reach out to homeless people, provide basic services and educate them as to what their options are – in short, to embrace them into the community while giving them the tools to better their situations.

Events are held throughout the country, but only Missoula and Billings have organized Project Homeless Connect gatherings in Montana before Kalispell, Amy said. Elizabeth Stovall, an Americorps VISTA member working through CAP, began planning for one in Kalispell last year and by the beginning of 2010 a steering committee was meeting on a regular basis.

Since then, more than 40 groups have joined on, and more than 100 volunteers are coming from all corners of the community to help out at the June 9 gathering. The groups involved include event co-sponsors CAP, Samaritan House, United Way, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, Flathead Electric Cooperative and the Flathead City-County Health Department.

Volunteers can sign up the day of the event. Amy said they are taking as many volunteers as they can get.

Services provided at the event include medical assistance, housing counseling, family services, financial education, mental health services, legal assistance, chemical dependency help, food, haircuts and more. Pet services are also available.

Medical assistance includes onsite services, such as breast screening, HIV testing and interaction with a nurse, as well as referrals for later medical appointments. Flathead Electric Cooperative has provided money for medical appointment vouchers through its Roundup for Safety Program.

A distinct feature of Project Homeless Connect, Amy and CAP asset development program manager Claudine Maroon said, is the concept of the tour guide. Tour guides, as the name suggests, guide homeless participants through the event, help them get services and converse with them.

The guides promote efficiency and one-on-one interaction, while ensuring that no participants are left unattended and waiting.

“We don’t want lines,” Maroon said. “They do enough waiting in lines.”

Coordinators hope to establish a strong foundation for the event so it can be “self sustaining” and held annually.

For more information about Project Homeless Connect and how to volunteer, call (406) 758-5497 or visit online at www.nmhr-dist10.org/project homelessness.html