Skagit Project Homeless Connect - Mobilizing the community to end homelessness on 9/11 Day of Service

Right now in Skagit County, Washington, there are nearly 2,500 people living in homelessness—approximately half of whom are under the age of 21. They face significant challenges that include minimal access to healthcare, limited employment opportunities, obstacles to education, and stigma. Yet despite these desperate conditions, most of these people fade into the background of our lives without acknowledgement or assistance.

To confront this problem head on, and in observance of 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, the Skagit County Coalition to End Homelessness is organizing the second annual Skagit County Project Homeless Connect (PHC) on September 8th, 2011 at Skagit Valley College. PHC is geared towards homeless and low income individuals and families, connecting them to resources they need to overcome their barriers to stable housing. On that day, over 30 service providers and 200 volunteers will come together to assist the homeless members of our community.

The services to be offered include, but are not limited to haircuts, DSHS services, photo IDs, medical exams, dental care, eye exams, children's services, clothing, veterinary care, bicycle repair, school supplies, and Veterans' services. Free bus and shuttle service to the event will also be provided county-wide, eliminating transportation issues normally faced by homeless individuals attempting to access services. PHC rallies the county to create lasting solutions for the homeless. It is designed to connect the entire community with the issue of homelessness and foster a deeper understanding of the problem while engaging the community in solutions.

As the purpose of PHC is to unite community members across the spectrum to challenge the root causes of homelessness, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks we can think of no better way to show our respect for our country and for the lives lost than to rally our whole community in support of this cause. After the attacks, many Americans were left with a feeling of hopelessness and a lack of purpose. We wanted to help, but had no call to action.  But we are now calling on all members of our community to support Project Homeless Connect in the hope of serving over 600 guests and families. In partnership with the United Way of Skagit County, this will be our first year to call upon the whole community’s participation as a United Way Day of Caring.  By setting up this partnership, our goal is to continue to combine the Days of Caring event with 9/11 Day of Service every year to give an outlet and purpose for our community members who want to serve.

This event would not be possible without the support of dedicated community volunteers to plan and staff the event.  Our goal is to engage and maintain an active, involved volunteer base that consists of local businesses, elected officials, nonprofits, and individual community members all working together to end homelessness. Over the past year, nearly 40 community members have stepped up to serve on the PHC steering committee to plan and organize the event.  Steering committee volunteers have coordinated food drives, clothing drives, and car washes to raise resources and funds. Over 200 community volunteers will serve the day of the event as guest guides, intake volunteers, medical volunteers, food preparation, set up, take down and other functions. Led by our community’s 80 AmeriCorps members, the day-of volunteers will provide one-on-one compassionate support for our homeless community guests. Additionally, a variety of elected officials in our community including mayors, county commissioners, and a state representative have volunteered to serve lunch to our guests and volunteers.

The Skagit Volunteer Center Program manager will lead the breakfast kick-off. This early morning rally will include a presentation about 9/11 Day of Service and a moment of silence for the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks.  Other speakers will include the Executive Directors of United Way and Skagit County Community Action, as well as elected officials who will discuss the importance of engaging the whole community in addressing homelessness.

Volunteers are tracked through the Skagit Volunteer Center’s online recruitment website, www.skagitvolunteercenter.org. Volunteers are then required to attend training in August from the Skagit Volunteer Center.  At the information sessions, volunteers receive information on the event culture and values, expectations of volunteers, logistics for the event, and the importance of 9/11 Day of Service. On the day of the event, volunteers report to the volunteer table where they will sign in and out, receive maps and instructions, and a brightly colored t-shirt. Volunteer surveys will be administered via Survey Monkey after the event to capture the satisfaction of our volunteers and ways we can improve next year.

An event as large as PHC needs a wide range of in kind and financial donations. Currently the project has been awarded $5,000 from the county government.  However, we will need at least $15,000 to pay for medical supplies, dental vans, volunteer t-shirts, signage, and rentals. As this is an annual event, the additional funding will give us the opportunity to create a sustainable base of materials that can be used every year.

So far, we have many enthusiastic organizations and businesses providing services at this event. The Anacortes Family Center, Friendship House, Northwest Youth Services, YMCA Oasis Teen Shelter, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Skagit County Sherriff's Office, Skagit County Community Action Agency, Department of Corrections, Skagit County Public Health, Skagit Transit, Skagit County Community Services, Safe Harbor Free Clinic, United Way of Skagit County, AmeriCorps teams, RSVP, Rice Bowl Ministries, Office of Social Security, Volunteer Lawyer Program, Veteran’s Services, Youthnet, Pregnancy Choices, Worksource, Children’s Museum, the WIC program, Northwest Hair Academy, Goodwill, Skagit Cycle, Soapy Dog Wash and Shoppe, Crusin Coffee, Peer Connections, Love Inc., Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, Christ the King Church, Burlington Hampton Inn & Suites, Bill Testerman DVM, Job Corps, and Planned Parenthood are just a few of the many providers and donors on our list.

Thank you for your time and consideration.