The annual one-day event provides direct help to people in need, bringing dozens of services to one place. Haircuts, health screenings, dental treatment, pet care and help for veterans were among the many offerings at the Everett school.
Neil Parekh, a spokesman for United Way of Snohomish County, said at the close of the event that an initial tally showed 1,202 people had registered. There were 335 service providers from 70 organizations and 130 volunteers.
Waiting for a vision check, Richardson held a backpack and brand new running shoes. Homeless, he is staying at the Everett Gospel Mission Men's Shelter. He said shoes wear out quickly with all the walking he does.
In a first for the event, the nonprofit Seattle group Redeeming Soles gave away running shoes -- 1,200 pairs -- donated by Brooks Sports, Inc. The shoes were stacked by size in Cascade's cafeteria, where people tried them on to find a good fit.
At 48, Richardson has been at the men's shelter a couple of months. He said he came west from Hutchinson, Kan., after getting a divorce and losing his job in an automotive shop.
"For 15 years I was rebuilding engines. They shut the business down. It gets difficult," he said.
The local United Way was the lead agency for this year's Project Homeless Connect, held annually since 2008 and at Cascade since 2010. It's a collaboration between Snohomish County, the city of Everett, and many service organizations. Everett Transit provided free bus rides to the school.
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick made a brief appearance at the start of the day, Parekh said.
Not everyone using services was homeless, and Parekh said no documentation was required to get help. "It's a reality, there are a lot of people in our community who need help," he said.
Parekh said Project Homeless Connect is not only a "feel-good" event, it provides important data about needs in the community.
There were definitely feel-good aspects to the day. Thirty hairstylists turned Cascade classrooms into makeshift salons.
"Everybody I've run across today kept thanking me," said Andrea Jones, 26, a stylist at SmartStyle in Marysville who volunteered her services for the day.
"I don't have much money to donate, so I donate my time if I can," said Jones, who by midmorning had finished five haircuts.
"It's overwhelming. I just can't believe all this happens," said Sue Stark, 52, whose sister drove her from Stanwood to event. Everett Community College cosmetology student Rebekah Robertson, 21, was cutting Stark's hair. "I'm so grateful for what all these people do," Stark said.
Clients awaited their turns in one of two mobile dental clinics, which were returning today for those who made appointments Thursday.
At a table in the gym, Reginald Taylor, a social services representative with the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, was answering veterans' questions. "Homeless veterans are as young as 23 up to 80. It's terrible," Taylor said. Many returning from Iraq or Afghanistan can't find jobs, he said, and some who do end up losing jobs because of "issues they haven't dealt with yet."
Nearby, a volunteer with Snohomish County Legal Services talked with a client at a table where a sign offered help with debt, eviction and divorce issues.
At a tent outside, volunteers with the Everett Animal Shelter talked with dog owners. Several veterinarians volunteered, offering vaccinations, flea treatments, or nail trims for pets. Volunteers also watched animals while their owners had health treatments or a free lunch.
Kimberly Wallace, 53, brought her 6-month-old pup, Paws. "I'm not homeless, but there's a lot of need," the Everett woman said. She came to Project Homeless Connect hoping to get dental care for her nephew.
Gerald "Butch" Erickson, 57, is about to be homeless. He has been staying in a room in Everett, but said he can't stay because people there are moving. His partner, 58-year-old Sherri Sommerness, said they spent two summers at an Index campground. "We have dinners at the Salvation Army, and go to church there too," she said.
Steven True and his girlfriend Collette Brotton were trying on free shoes. Their 4-month-old son Sirus was in a stroller. Brotton lives at Housing Hope. True, who is in drug treatment and said he hasn't used illegal drugs for six months, works part-time at Comcast Arena with a cleaning crew. "We've been through a lot of bumps," he said.
"It gives me chills just how much need their is," said Faith Simonelli, a manager at Volunteers of America. "It's sad we have to have an event like this."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the numbers
At Project Homeless Connect Thursday, 1,202 people registered. Help provided:
- 1,200 pairs of shoes
- 1,200 meals
- 941 backpacks
- 267 haircuts
- 132 pets received care
- 250 vision checks or glasses
- 62 Community Health Center visits
- 30 screenings for HIV or hepatitis
- 50 children received free child care.
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