Project Homeless Connect helps hundreds of Whatcom County residents in need

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 26, 2013 

HomelessConnect

Nilda Owens, left, looks over clothing with volunteer Sandiford Dunstan-McGrail at the annual Project Homeless Connect at Bellingham High School in Bellingham Friday , July 26, 2013. The event provides services for the homeless and needy.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - Bellingham High School seemed more like a world's fair to Henry Hawkins on Friday, July 26, as the school played host to Project Homeless Connect.

Hawkins, a low-income Bellingham resident, was one of about 550 people who attended the event to access services for the homeless and needy, all under one roof.

"It's definitely got everything anybody could be looking for. You have all the medical services, psychiatry, hearing, vision," Hawkins said. "The fact that all the doors are open to everybody is just helpful."

Hawkins planned on seeing a chiropractor and getting his hearing tested - appointments that can be difficult to make on his income - as well as getting clothing and toiletries at the event.

In its fifth year, Project Homeless Connect brings together volunteers and service providers who offer medical and dental care, meals, clothing and haircuts, and help with legal advice, benefits, housing, employment and other services for those in need.

Dental and medical services, including women's health and podiatry, are some of the most popular services offered, said Dan Hammill, director at Whatcom Volunteer Center and one of the organizers.

Community volunteer Christine Gibbs said she has enjoyed the opportunity to help people get their needs filled, whether it's with identification or access to benefits and services.

"One woman was so discouraged and in tears, and I took her to the housing area and within half an hour she was getting what she needed and said she was feeling much better," Gibbs said. "It was just wonderful to see in half an hour what can turn around."

Meals are served up in the high school's common area throughout the day, and with so many people showing up hungry, that's the place Gibbs likes to see people go first.

"There's all this wonderful free food, and then people can focus on what needs to be done with a full tummy," she said.

For homeless mother Myrtle Olson and her 15-year-old daughter, the event was a great place to see what help was out there for them. They gathered clothing and blankets, and Olson found help getting a state identification card for her daughter and renewing her driver's license. They also planned on getting health care at the event.

"It's very rare to get all these people all in one place," Olson said of the variety of services. "Usually, you have to drive around, you have to make phone calls. It's just a lot when you're homeless and don't have much gas or funds for anything."

Volunteers Susan Faber and Cindy Visser heard about the event through their church and decided to become involved. Their church group has been putting together kits with snacks, water and toiletries that they keep in their cars to give to homeless people throughout the county, so they decided to put together a bunch of the kits to hand out at the event.

"If you just watch the people going through, you see why it's important," Visser said of the event. "They just have needs you can't even imagine."

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

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