About 1,700 homeless or otherwise disadvantaged men, women and children flooded into the Tacoma Dome on Wednesday, Oct. 23 for Project Homeless Connect’s annual event to provide them with free, one-stop services to better their lives.
The effort connected low-income people from around Pierce County with dental and medical screenings, flu shots, clothing and referral services for housing and food assistance as well as state identification cards and tax help. People also received haircuts, toys, soaps, resume help and information about job training opportunities.
Christopher Valverde was one of more than a dozen students from BJ’s Beauty School and Barber College who donated his time to cut hair at no charge. He estimated he cut hair for about 100 people by day’s end.
“I love this,” he said. “It is all about community and helping each other. Because if we don’t have community, what do we have? It’s about humanity.”
The Tacoma Dome event is the first of Project Homeless Connect’s efforts in its annual cycle. Similar events are slated for Spanaway in January, Puyallup in March and Key Peninsula in August. The effort will then return to Tacoma next fall, said event coordinator Alanna Rodgers.
Housing and medical assistance booths are always among the busiest of the 50 or so human services agencies and nonprofits at the event. The Department of Licensing program to provide free state identification cards to people who can’t afford the $45 fee is also popular, she said, since many services are not available to people without valid identification.
Computers and specialists were available for people to get assistance in filing for health insurance under the new Affordable Care Act.
The event spilled outside the Tacoma Dome when organizers wanted to provide free lunches to the attendees and were told that all food must be purchased through the Dome’s catering services. That proved too expensive, so a few calls went out for help.
The Puyallup Tribe not only stepped up and volunteered the use of a nearby vacant lot on tribal land for the free lunches, but leaders rallied their own volunteers to hand out clothing and toiletries. “We gave out everything pretty quickly,” Tribal Council member Sylvia Miller said. “I just ran to the store and bought another $300 worth of stuff.”
More donations from tribal members came in as the day progressed and word spread. The tribe now plans to host similar events on the 20th of every month at the parking lot below the Tacoma Dome for anyone in need, Miller said.
Chuckals Office Supply donated trucks and volunteers, and Goodwill of Tacoma-Pierce County workers made lunches thanks to a $5,000 donation from Bank of America.
One of those helped at the event was Carol Ann LaMont, who filed to get a driver’s license, had a medical screening and visited the housing assistance programs. Her mother died a few weeks ago and the future of her family home is in doubt, so she is facing homelessness.
“I am left in God’s hands,” LaMont said