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Project Connect helps the homeless in Bremerton

A Project Connect attendee fills out paperwork at the Sheridan Park Community Center in Bremerton on Wednesday. - Seraine Page/staff photo
A Project Connect attendee fills out paperwork at the Sheridan Park Community Center in Bremerton on Wednesday.
— image credit: Seraine Page/staff photo

By early Wednesday morning, the lines wrapped around the side of the Sheridan Park Community Center building in Bremerton. Folks were lining up to get first choice of sleeping bags, clothing, eye exams and more.

All 487 participants waited to take part in Project Connect.

Project Connect, in its sixth year, is a one-stop services venue for those who are homeless or low income.

“There’s a lot of services (here) that people often can’t get due to their income,” said Julie Graves, Project Connect coordinator.

The most popular services tend to be haircuts and eye exams. Coordinators of the event expected around 500 to show up throughout the day.

Scott Williams sat on the side watching his grandkids while his son and daughter-in-law perused the booths. His girlfriend, too, stopped in to see what was available, he said. All are low income, and his son’s family is without medical insurance.

“This is pretty nice for them,” he said. “This helps them out a lot. A lot of people don’t have bus passes or a car. It’s their chance to get that one thing (they may need).”    Williams said he may one day soon need the services himself. He’s got cancer, and he’s on disability right now.

“This might be me,” he said, looking around at those receiving services.

As he watched the volunteers, he thought about how at ease they made attendees feel.

“They’re right on top of it,” he said. “They look very nice and kind.”

One of the event goals is to make participants feel as welcomed as possible so they aren’t shy to enjoy a hot meal or ask questions about services.

Vendors — including Kitsap Transit — greeted some attendees by name, smiling and guiding them to other services.

“It’s so important for people to know what we can do for them,” said Trudy Stacy, Kitsap Transit customer service manager. “We work so closely with so many of the social agencies. I get goosebumps because I have such a passion.”

Kitsap Transit offered Orca cards that were filled on site, which wasn’t available in previous years. The machine on site is new, and it makes it easier on the client, Kitsap Transit staff said.

Even though the event takes a lot of time to coordinate, the effort is worth it for the reaction they receive, said Roland Arper, a Kitsap Lions Low Vision Support Group volunteer.

Arper coordinated to have 32 Lions Club members from across the county help out with vision screenings.

“Some literally light up being able to see,” he said of those who receive exams and new glasses.

The Lions Club members served 146 attendees who received eye exams and/or glasses. The prescription glasses will be ready for pickup on Feb. 12, Arper said.

For some, select services were exactly what they were hoping and looking for at the event. A map of all 58 vendors guided participants around to find exactly what they were looking for, including Janice Vaker.

Vaker stopped in to collect warm coats for her two children. As a second year attendee, she’s familiar with many of the services. The one-stop services building made it easier for her, she said.

“I like it because everything’s in one place,” she said. “It makes it more convenient.”

The next Project Connect event is expected to be in Jan. 2015.

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