Dozens of Sitkans showed up to the Salvation Army on Tuesday (01-26-16) to get help applying for their Permanent Fund Dividends, blood pressure checks and warm clothes. The fair was part of the nationwide event called Project Homeless Connect that brings services to those in need.
Twylia Osborne often stops by the Salvation Army for a hot meal during the weekdays. But, on Tuesday, instead of the typical cafeteria she found a fair with free shampoo and winter coats.
“I came for the lunch but I did get a flu shot while I was here,” she said.
The 51-year-old mother is homeless – at the moment. She’s from Sitka, and had been living in Anchorage, but moved back home to be closer to her daughter last year.
Osborne has been camping for the past six weeks, after her housing fell through. She’ll be braving the elements until she gets the money she needs to secure a place.
“At least four more weeks,” Osborne said. “Waiting for disability to come through.”
Osborne was one of about 50 people who got help at Sitka’s Project Homeless Connect. And like many of those who were there, homelessness is a temporary state.
“A lot of times people find themselves homeless when they weren’t homeless,” said Julia Smith is president of Sitka’s Easter Group, which sponsored the event. “I had someone answer the survey they were just homeless for two week. It’s circumstantial. You’re lost your job, you’re a seasonal worker. There are a lot of reasons.”
Project Homeless Connect started in San Francisco in 2004 and since has spread to 200 communities in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Smith says Project Homeless Connect is one-stop shop to get people the resources they need to get back on their feet.
“It’s hard to get services or know where to go to get services when you find yourself in that position,” she said.
Mary Wegner, superintendent of the Sitka School district, was there volunteering.
The district has seen anywhere from 20 to 40 homeless students in a year, she says, and she wants to help them.
“When you don’t have home, food or your family is in crisis you won’t be able to contribute your best in a school setting,” Wegner said.
Project Homeless Connect also serves as a census of homelessness in the country. Once a year, different organizations participate in a survey to get a more accurate picture of people who are in need. Smith says the data helps get more resources for them.
“These are our neighbors,” she said. “This is a small town and we know each other and we see folks every day that are homeless and we may not know it.”
Just like Osborne and others who showed up for help to get them through.
Easter Group will hold more daylong events geared at helping the homeless with health care and employment in the coming months. Those events take place on Feb. 17, March 16 and April 20.