By: Katie Sobiech
This year’s Project Homeless Connect (PHC) in Summit County, held on May 11th at the Chapel, turned out to be a great success. Every year PHC holds a special event for the homeless.
“It was bigger this year and a lot more agencies were involved,” Wendy Ley, Chair of PHC said. “We prepared for 1,200 people.”
Project Homeless Connect is put on by the Continuum of Care for the Homeless (CoC).
“The CoC is a group of about 25 agencies that provide shelter and supportive services for the homeless. They work with the homeless on a daily basis,” Sue Pierson, Director of InfoLine said.
The CoC began three years ago.
“We also do the Point in Time Count, so this committee does two really major events,” Ley added, “Basically we’re working to adjust and better the services provided for the homeless.”
The Point in Time Count is put on once a year to count the number of homeless in Ohio.
“The people who came were in need of services that were a little more in-depth than in the years before,” Ley said.
Services offered fell under nine different categories including:
- Hair Cutting
- Mental Health
- Women’s Health
Many different agencies set up booths and were available to speak one-on-one with those needing their services. Free gifts and information were given out. Pregnancy testing doctor consultations, vision screening and exams, dental care, HIV testing and more was made available.
The Red Cross donated 1,000 lunches, including rigatoni with meat sauce, green beans, tossed salad and drinks, and cooked a total of 1,500 meals with the help of Info Line.
“I think the most important thing is when you look at how many agencies, churches, faith-based communities and people from all different companies around this community have come together. I find it amazing in Akron that you have an event like this, you put it out there and people just show up. We had over 800 people here today to help us volunteer,” Pierson said.
Sean Fremon with Cole Industries, and also member of Cornerstone Free Methodist Church in Coventry, organized the clothing giveaway.
“We had a 27 foot truck full of clothes show up yesterday. We collected them by company. There were four drop off locations and we sorted them,” he said.
The homeless were able to take as many items as they wanted from the room filled with clothing and shoes.
“It’s a great event,” Fremon said.
Also in the clothing giveaway area were four best friends, or “sisters”, as they like to say. Each of them was once homeless but turned their lives around and is now volunteering for various organizations and ministries within the community.
“A day like today is so important to these people. It’s like Christmas to them,” Sheri Castro said, “We actually started this because one of our people died here on the streets in Akron in the wintertime,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears.
The women pour much of their time into volunteer work at Choices Community Social Center, and each of them have their own stories to tell.
“I lost everything I owned about 4 or 5 times plus been on the street. I don’t even have pictures of my kids,” Lisa Riddle said, “When I was homeless they didn’t have anything like this where you could get haircuts and all of that.”
On overcoming homelessness she says, “I was determined to keep a roof over my head, food in my stomach and clothes on my back. As long as I have that, I’m okay.”
“Average people misunderstand the homeless,” Castro explained, “They need to be valued.”
The women now run a volunteer homeless program in the basement of the Choices building, offering comfort to those with mental health issues.
“I haven’t met a homeless person that doesn’t go into depression. It just diminishes your self-esteem,” Castro said.
The ladies light up when talking about PHC because they know first hand how much joy an event like this brings to those in need.
“This is a big blessing to us because we’re helping people who want help but sometimes don’t know how to go about getting it, and this is the greatest place to come,” Vicki Shockey said.
The community truly came together, pulling in resources to make a special day for those struggling. Not only a day, but they’ve provided resources that can change these people’s lives for a lifetime.
For more information on how you can help be a part of next year’s Project Homeless Connect please contact Helen Tomic, City Planner, at 330.375.2090