Project Homeless Connect, a one-day outreach to the peninsula’s disadvantaged, attracted scores people to the Soldotna Sports Complex Wednesday. Frank Alioto, whose daytime job is at Central Peninsula Hospital, is a co-leader of the project.
“This also the national day for the homeless count. And so part of it is getting a count, trying to see the needs in our community for the homeless population. And ‘homelessness’ just doesn’t mean they don’t have a home, it means they might not have permanent residence. They could be couch surfing, they could be staying somewhere in a shelter, they could be they could be part of our community,” Alioto said. “And so people come in and we have, as you can see it quite a few different, I don't know the exact noun, but quite a few different vendors that are providing different resources. People check in and then have a guide that walks along with them and just kind of see is what they need and got great freebies and opportunities to provide hope.”
Esther Ignatin had just gotten her hair done by one of the two stylists from AK Hair Salon in Soldotna, and was ready to check out more of the booths and tables.
“It’s very helpful here, it’s my first time here, my first time around Kenai and Soldotna and I love it around here. I've been in sobriety six months and I’m making new friends,” she said. “I live over at Freedom House and I work at Love INC. with the MASST program with the Job Center that hook me up, 55 and older people, that want to take learning courses like getting their GED, and preparing me for I'm looking for a full-time job”
There was a small converted lemonade stand right near the exit of the venue, where 12-year-old Aleea Faulkner was handing out socks. A lot of socks. She had set a goal of collecting 300 pairs to give away during Project Homeless Connect, but she showed up with nearly three times as many.
“Well, I was a Girl Scout and I wanted to do something, but my Girl Scout Troop were just thinking about it and I was like OK well do it,” she said. “And they helped me make little personalized notes on foam hearts and we pinned them on the socks. And I'm hoping to get my Silver Award and it'd be pretty great. But Kenai Middle School Random Acts of Kindness, the club, also helped us with the personalized notes for each sock..”
And those notes offer a bit of inspiration to go with the warmth of the socks as the peninsula’s homeless or nearly so headed back out into the sub-zero cold.
“‘There’s always rainbows after rain; There’s are always a pair of socks after a bad day,’” read Faulkner. “This one says, ‘God loves you always and forever ever and more,’ and, ‘Beautiful.’ And this one says, ‘Those who wander are not lost.’”
This was the seventh annual Project Homeless Connect, and the list of vendors and sponsors and volunteers is a yard long and growing, but co-leader Alioto made a point of thanking Alaska Cab, which provided rides to and from the Sports Complex free of charge all day for the participants.