Homeless given hope at annual event offering free services

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Andrew Wilson has needed a pair of eyeglasses for the last eight years. He’s never been able to afford them.

“I’ve never had medical coverage,” he said.

Despite which, Wilson has kept himself busy and fed doing warehouse work and as a “backyard mechanic,” he said. But in recent months, Wilson and his wife and three children landed in the street because of “certain circumstances” that he didn’t want to describe.

What he did want to describe is his gratitude for Project Homeless Connect, a clearinghouse of free services that got Wilson new work boots, a winter coat and an eye exam. Others got free haircuts and first aid, counseling and dental care, housing tips and employment leads. Hundreds of homeless people showed up; dozens of service providers and volunteers were on hand to help out.

“I am real glad these people are willing to take the time and effort to help people who really need help,” Wilson said. With new boots on his feet, Wilson said, he’s hoping to get to score a job that includes medical coverage for his family.

This year’s event was the fifth annual Project Homeless Connect -- and the first held outside Vancouver’s downtown area. In previous years, the site has been a conference room at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay; this year, it was Living Water Community Church, on Northeast 65th Avenue. That’s a stone’s throw from the former Kmart that’s become Living Hope Church and from the new Share headquarters on Andresen Road -- all places where assistance for the needy is a top priority.

New partnerships

This year’s event marked new partnerships between chief sponsor the Council for the Homeless and local churches and networks of church-based volunteers like Compassionate Vancouver and Go Connect, organizers said.

“We have wonderful new partners in these faith communities who are really interested in reaching out,” said Cheryl Pfaff, president of the board of directors of the Council for the Homeless.

Living Water Church has been in the Fisher’s Landing area for the last decade, youth pastor David Brashler said, but moved to the central city last

year “because there’s a lot of brokenness, a lot of need, a lot of hopelessness here.”

To get homeless folks over from downtown Vancouver, organizers took donations for the bus tickets that they distributed, and they operated special shuttles from the Share House shelter and other logical locations.

But Kevin Hiebert, who coordinates the seasonal Winter Hospitality Overflow shelters in Vancouver, added that moving the event into central Vancouver and out of downtown made it a lot more available to homeless families -- as opposed to single men.

Lena Chard, 39, came to Homeless Connect to get a haircut and coat. She’s waiting on some surgery, she said, but hopes to head back to school after that. She’s not homeless, she said -- she lives in a subsidized apartment and is permanently disabled -- and looks forward to the day she can be a volunteer, rather than a consumer, at Homeless Connect.

‘Lifesaver for me’

Outside, a fellow named Jason was effusive about the free boots he’d just stuffed his feet into. He proudly pointed out that they are Danner Boots, made right across the river in Portland.

“I would never be able to afford such a prestigious pair of boots,” said Jason, who’s been sheltered at Share House for the last couple of months. “They are going to be a lifesaver for me. I just want to say how grateful I am that these good people are here.”

“I’m not walking around the way I used to,” said Manuel Galaviz, who was also beaming over his new footwear. “I can’t do more than three miles a day.” Galaviz used to live with his mother, he said, but when she died, he was “hung out to dry.” He’s worked as a driver and handyman for a friend, but when that friend hit the skids, Galaviz did too. He’s been living at Share House and dreaming of the day he can help build affordable housing for people just like him.

“I just came down here to get some help and see all my friends,” said Gary Adams, 48, as he waited for a haircut with his therapy dog, Poncho. Poncho helps Adams deal with a bevy of mental problems -- including anxiety, bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, he said.

Adams and Poncho usually live in a tent -- but when it’s cold and rainy, Adams hunts for shelter because he wants to get his best friend indoors.

Adams was feeling triumphal on Thursday because he’d gone 30 days clean and sober -- and has faith that that’s the ticket to a housing subsidy.

“I need to go back to court, but after that we might be going to our own place,” he said with a grin.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits;scott.hewitt@columbian.com.