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My Turn: Why Project Homeless Connect matters

Posted: January 26, 2013 - 8:18pm

This Monday, the Juneau Homeless Coalition will be hosting Project Homeless Connect. The annual event brings together service providers and members of the community experiencing homelessness to facilitate a flow of assistance. For many of those who work and live with the challenges of low-income here in Juneau, it is one of the most important events of the year.

In the short term, making services available is important for those without homes in Juneau. We live in an expensive town, in part because of the high wages many of us benefit from. For those who live with little income, the high cost of living puts many services and ammenities out of reach from haircuts to healthcare. At Project Homeless Connect anyone can get help in a variety of arenas for free—last year volunteers provided 135 health screenings, 18 pairs of glasses, eviction prevention funds for 3 families, and many other forms of assistance. The intention is to provide at least as many, if not more, this year.

Project Homeless Connect is also vital for medium and long-term policy planning. When participants enter Centennial Hall on Monday, they will be asked to answer a brief questionnaire on their personal histories and current situations. The information gathered during this intake is compiled into a snapshot of what homelessness looks like in Juneau on any given day. It is an imperfect picture, of course, but it is one of the best we have.

That picture is used to assess what needs are being met, and what remain to be improved upon in Juneau’s continuum of care. In speaking with clients en masse on a single day, local service providers can find out where they are succeeding and how they could work more effectively to heal and help. On the bigger picture, organizations such as AHFC and the Veteran’s Administration use the information to develop new housing stock and allocate housing funding in an accurate manner. We all know that Juneau needs as much new housing as we get, but policymakers from Juneau to Anchorage to DC need statistics to back up their projects, and the data from PHC provides that numerical foundation.

On a more fundamental, if slightly more complex level, the importance of Project Homeless Connect reaches back to its name. Project Homeless Connect is about coming together as community members. Each day from the Polaris House to the Alaska Housing Development Corporation to Front Street Clinic, people work to improve lives across varying income levels. One day a year we come together to carry out this effort under the same roof. All of us in Juneau take compassionate actions, from tutoring with Big Brothers Big Sisters to doing volunteer trailwork on Mount Jumbo, that bind us as a community, weaving a tapestry that is stronger than our 30,000 individuals. That connection for health, progress, and happiness, can be a powerful thing. Hopefully all of Juneau, housed, unhoused, participating, or just reading this article, understand and appreciate their place in a Juneau community as strong as the one that is holding Project Homeless Connect this week.

• Post wrote this submission with the collaboration of several other Juneau Homeless Coalition members.

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