Breaking barriers — and stereotypes: Third annual event connects people with services, and with each other

Peninsula Services volunteers packaged hygiene kits to be distributed at Project Connect. From left, Zack, Ashley Tetreault, Sharon Hellickson-Oliver, Executive Director Jill Robinson, John Matthews, and vocational skills trainer Raquel Callao. - Contributed / Eric Larsen
Peninsula Services volunteers packaged hygiene kits to be distributed at Project Connect. From left, Zack, Ashley Tetreault, Sharon Hellickson-Oliver, Executive Director Jill Robinson, John Matthews, and vocational skills trainer Raquel Callao.
— image credit: Contributed / Eric Larsen

A few years ago when Beverly Kincaid visited the Eastern European country of Slovenia, she was struck by the apparent lack of poverty.

She didn’t see panhandlers or people sleeping in the streets. She asked a local woman, “Where are the homeless and the poor?” The answer: “In our country, we take care of them.”

It made Kincaid wonder, “Can’t we do the same?”

On Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the third annual Project Connect will take place at the Sheridan Park Community Center, 680 Lebo Blvd., in East Bremerton.

Hosted by the Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition, the event is designed to provide a one-stop location for people to access supportive service providers from throughout Kitsap County.

“My focus is not only on people who are already homeless, but those who are at risk of becoming homeless. With the appropriate support services, hopefully they won’t reach homelessness,” Kincaid said.

Kincaid has spent the last seven months planning for the one-day event. She has put herself in the shoes of people who are struggling: What goods and services would benefit a person who is homeless? How can Project Connect give hope to those who are down on their luck?

Kincaid has thought of it all. She’s lined up medical doctors, dental hygienists, hair stylists and veterinarians. When you don’t have a place to sleep, or don’t know when your next meal will be, it’s difficult to remember to get your pet vaccinated.

Representatives from different social services organizations will be on hand to help support and guide people who are struggling. Folks from the Salvation Army, Agape Housing Program and Bremerton Housing Authority are among the agencies that will be present.

Given the current economic climate, Kincaid expects 500 people to attend this year’s event, which is more than in the past. She said planning for the unknown is difficult; it’s been like “flying by the seat of your pants and your pants are on fire.”

“The most important part of this event is to instill hope in people,” Kincaid said. “The second goal of the event is to debunk the myths and stereotypes of people who are homeless.” It could be your neighbor, she said. Homelessness does not discriminate based on age, race or gender.

It saddens Kincaid when individuals lump all people who are homeless into the category of drunks and drug addicts. While Kincaid realizes that some homeless fall into that category, she has met many people who have great knowledge, skills and talent, who happen also to be homeless. She doesn’t like homelessness to define a person.

Kincaid shared a chilling statistic. The 6th Congressional District (which covers the majority of Kitsap County) has the second-highest percentage of homeless children in the state. Kincaid believes the huge homeless issue in northwest Washington is related to high unemployment and lack of affordable housing.

“The American dream has become the American nightmare,” she said.

To counter a bit of the negative, Kincaid has purposefully planned for joyful events at Project Connect. Message therapy interns from Everest College will be on hand to give chair massages. A raffle for gift cards to supermarkets will take place throughout the day. A free hot lunch will be prepared by Olympic College Culinary Arts students. And free children’s books will be provided by Kitsap Regional Library.

More than 60 volunteers have been recruited for the event. Kincaid carefully screened the volunteers. Her criteria was simple: If potential volunteers didn’t know how to smile, she didn’t want them. She didn’t want cranky people either. Volunteers need to create a welcoming and nonjudgmental environment, she said.

Kincaid’s has found joy in undertaking this monumental task. She has been thrilled at meeting new people in the community and seeing different organizations and individuals step forward. Kincaid said people need to be asked to help, but once asked, they will usually follow through.

“Sometimes you have to twist arms,” she said, “and I’ve nearly broken a few.”

When the event takes place, Kincaid will have collected new socks, outdoor supplies, warm clothing, food, diapers, bus tokens, laundry vouchers, phone cards, gas cards and eye glasses — proof that the Kitsap community has embraced Project Connect.

“Some of the biggest barriers we face are the people around us who don’t understand and have on their blinders. They think ‘Homelessness is not my problem.’ If our community is to be a better place, it is all of our problem,” Kincaid said.

Free rides to Project Connect
Free rides are available to and from Project Connect, thanks to the Boys and Girls Club of Bainbridge Island, Harper Church, Manette Community Church, North Kitsap Baptist Church, and the Salvation Army.

— Bainbridge Island: Pick-up at 9:15 a.m. at Boys and Girls Club, 8521 Madison Ave. NE. Depart Sheridan Park Community Center at 1:15 p.m.

— Port Orchard/South Kitsap: Pick-up at 11:00 a.m. at South Kitsap Helpline, 1012 Mitchell Ave. Depart Sheridan Park Community Center at 1:30 p.m.

— Poulsbo/North Kitsap: Pick-up at Poulsbo First Lutheran at 9:15 a.m. Depart Sheridan Park Community Center at 1:15 p.m.

— Silverdale/Central Kitsap: (First run) Pick-up at 9:30 a.m. at the Old Mill Park parking lot in Silverdale; pick-up at 9:45 a.m. at the Hub, 6750 Highway 303; pick-up at 10 a.m. at Rite Aid Drug Store, 4220 Wheaton Way. Depart 11:30 a.m. Sheridan Park Community Center.

(Second run) Pick-up at noon at the Old Mill Park parking lot; pick-up at 12:15 p.m. at the Hub, 6750 Highway 303; pick-up at 12:30 p.m. at Rite Aid, 4220 Wheaton Way. Depart 3 p.m. Sheridan Park Community Center.

— West Bremerton: Pick-up at the Salvation Army and return every 30 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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