Bethel held its fourth ever Project Homeless Connect event last Friday at the cultural center. The purpose of the event was to connect Bethel’s homeless population with services they might not already know about.
The cultural center was split into two halves. On one side, representatives behind booths were there to hand out information and applications. On the other side, the kitchen dished out soup and dessert. One side was definitely more popular than the other.
Chaz Kashatok was huddled around a bowl of moose stew. He hadn’t come for the complicated forms and processes and "next steps." He came for the simple things.
"Free food. Little things like fingernail clippers, toothbrush, toothpaste, things like that, you know?" said Kashatok.
That’s what’s important to you when you’re living in cars.
"In my situation, we just survive for the next day or for the day, you know."
Chaz admits that he has a drinking problem like many other homeless, but he doesn’t think it’s fair to judge him for that.
"I’m alive and I’m surviving, and regardless of what you view me and what you see me as, man, you haven’t walked my shoes. If only then you could walk the trail that I’ve been given in life, you know, you’d probably understand why I’m in this predicament and circumstance in my life today," Kashatok said.
Others at Project Homeless Connect, like Raymond Jacobs, came for more than a plate of food.
"Actually, I need a home. I’ve been evicted from the senior center up there," Jacobs said. "I invited the wrong people that were making a lot of noise, and that’s the reason I guess I was evicted from that place."
Jacobs made a mistake that's not uncommon, inviting rowdy friends to the wrong place, and now he has nowhere to live.
Luckily, right on the other side of the cultural center, AVCP Regional Housing Authority representative Catherine Cedars was looking for people like Jacobs. Cedars is managing a program for homeless veterans that could pay for 70 percent of their rent.
“This person we’ve been trying to find for over a year. We knew he was eligible, but we could not locate him," Cedars said.
Then that person’s sister walked up to Cedars’ booth at Project Homeless Connect.
"And then through his sister we found his address," Cedars said. "I know there are more homeless veterans out there who qualify for this. It’s just hard to find or reach out to them."
It’s hard, because so many homeless don’t have a working phone or a consistent address. Cedars says that’s why physical events like this are so helpful.
The money for this event comes from Bethel’s Community Action Grant, which takes a portion of the city’s alcohol tax in order to improve the lives of Bethel’s most vulnerable.
Project Homeless Connect organizer Jaela Milford wants to provide more services next time, like free haircuts and winter clothing. She emphasized that this event is not just for homeless, but for anyone who needs these services.
Milford also wants to increase the frequency to three times a year. She plans to host the next Project Homeless Connect this October.