Project Homeless Connect serves hundreds during annual event

Elizabeth Orosco
Northeast News

Hundreds of community members and partners came together Tuesday, September 24 for the 6th Annual Project Homeless Connect Kansas City, a free event that connects individuals and families experiencing homelessness with necessary resources.

The one-day event offered services such as medical care, dental care, housing, haircuts, employment services, legal aid, SNAP and WIC applications, veteran services, eye exams, glasses, animal services, and more.

The project started in San Francisco in 2004 and has spread across the nation to over 300 cities. In 2014 it was brought to the greater Kansas City area and was led by a group of volunteers to create Project Homeless Connect Kansas City (PHCKC).

Organizations on-site included Swope Health Services, KC Care Clinic, KCMO Health Department, City Union Mission, ShelterKC, KC Public Library, ReStart, Housing Authority of KC, Legal Aid of Western Missouri, Harvester’s, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, United Way, Veterans Community Project, and dozens more.

Sarah Fustine, co-coordinator with PHCKC said the fully volunteer-led event raises funds themselves as well as through private sponsors and donors.
“Our goal is to connect people to services that are happening all year round,” she said. “We want to be a part of the system of care. We try and push people to provide a service this day, not just a follow up or referral for an appointment.”

Fustine said Project Homeless Connect works closely with the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness (GKCCEH) to manage a coordinated entry process for housing.

A major improvement this year, she said, is job assistance.

“As a whole, the community has done a good job of progressing into housing and right now, the community is in a stage where job assistance is a big need,” she said.

Fustine said PHCKC has also put together an advisory committee with the coalition and other agencies.

“They help us stay informed as to what’s going on and the stages and cycle of the population. That sort of knowledge helps us build out our job assistance,” she said.

PHCKC also offered a computer lab with resume help, literacy help, and job training.

“Someone could get forklift training in two weeks under a grant and have a job a month later,” Fustine said. “We are really trying to be a part of the system that is going beyond just today.”

Fustine said she got involved in Project Homeless Connect in Omaha as a volunteer in 2008.

When she moved back to Kansas City, she said she was excited to get involved in the outreach again, but found out there was not one located in the city, so she gathered a crew and started the event here.

One of the unique facets of the event is the one-on-one matching of a volunteer and a guest.

The volunteer walks alongside the guest throughout the day, navigating them through the various services.

“The model works,” Fustine said. “We have a long line of volunteers. A lot of their ability to receive those services is improved because of a smiling face navigator who took time out of their day.”

The experience from the volunteer perspective can be life-changing, too, said Fustine.

“It can be a profound experience to work so closely with someone to help them potentially change their life,” she said. “For me, it was a profound experience, which is why I was so called and moved to bring it to Kansas City.”

Johanna Schultz, a student from Rockhurst University, volunteered at the event for community service.

“We are helping individuals find resources that they can use throughout Kansas City,” she said.

Overall, Schultz said she hopes to not only help others who need it most, but to make connections and community.

“I didn’t have classes today, so I came here,” she said. “I hope to meet new people and to just spend the day helping others and building a community here in Kansas City since I am new to the area.”

Stephanie Boyer, CEO of Restart, an agency at the event, said her goal is to offer a whole host of housing services.

“Last year we helped over 1,100 people not become homeless who were at immediate risk,” she said.

They offer rapid rehousing, an emergency shelter program, street outreach, and prevention.

“Our goal is to ensure that whatever door people come into us through, that they exit into a safe, stable, permanent housing situation,” she said.
At the event, Boyer said the goal was to learn people’s stories.

“We want to get to know what their situation is and how we can best help serve them. We want to talk to them, get to know them and their situation, and figure out who can best meet their needs.”

Michael Focke , Veterans Outreach Specialist with the Vet Center, was also at the event to offer services to veterans.

“Our job is to be where veterans are. Instead of waiting for them to come find us, we go to them,” he said.

The Veterans Community Project has a non-biased approach, Focke said.

“They come in and if they have served one day or 20 years, they are eligible.”

For more information on Project Homeless Connect Kansas City, visit www.projecthomelessconnectkc.com.

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