BELLINGHAM - It has become a social-service tradition: Hundreds of homeless people get medical attention, a free meal and help with paperwork each year at Project Homeless Connect.
This year, the event takes place Friday, July 27. It's already popular, but organizers want to see if they can make it even more successful by moving it out of downtown, to Bellingham High School.
In previous years, Depot Market Square was the check-in point, and homeless people went to other locations downtown to receive services. Holding the event in the summer, when the high school is available, enabled everything to happen under one roof, said Dan Hammill, volunteer program director at the Whatcom Volunteer Center.
"It's a huge benefit to our guests so they don't have to walk several city blocks to receive services," Hammill said.
The high school is five blocks from the Whatcom Transportation Authority bus station building, which is a kind of nexus for homeless people in Bellingham. Volunteer Center Executive Director Sue Ellen Heflin said the new location trades proximity to downtown for consolidation of services.
"If transportation is an issue, they can take the bus for free," Heflin said. "It's a trade-off, but we're still hoping it will be a successful event."
WTA won't charge fares on any of its routes for two days, Thursday and Friday, July 26-27. Also, a taxi will be available to transport homeless people with mobility issues, Hammill said.
Because the event is being held at a different time of year (last year it was in March), organizers can't say how many will participate. Last year, volunteers signed in 679 homeless people.
Hammill ventured a prediction: "We expect the same amount as last year, perhaps a slight increase."
An event this big requires a lot of planning and coordination. Hammill didn't see it as a burden, however.
"It's what we do as a community," he said. "It's how Bellingham and Whatcom County respond to the issue of homelessness. Our community works together to help our neighbors that are in need."
PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT
What: Free services for homeless people include medical, dental and vision screenings; ID cards; housing assistance; veterans' services; haircuts and lunch.
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, July 27.
Where: Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Ave.
Transportation: Free WTA buses for all riders, July 26-27.
Volunteer: People are needed for setup and cleanup. Call 360-734-3055.
More information: Go to WhatcomVolunteer.org and click on "WVC Events."
Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2266.