By Jeremy Schwartz and Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News
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The number who attended at the Vern Burton Community Center, figured by the number of name tags provided, is a record, said Mercy Luquetta-Cole, event coordinator for the Clallam County Homeless Outreach Project.
“We've never seen this before,” she said, noting that last year's attendance was 356.
“Because of Homeless Connect, many were able to obtain as many services in one day as would otherwise take months,” Luquetta-Cole said.
Gathered in a single location were 52 local and statewide service providers and about 120 volunteers to offer free help to those in Clallam County who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“I think it was a great success,” said Kathy Wahto, one of the army of about 120 volunteers who made possible Friday's event.
Wahto, also the executive director of Serenity House of Clallam County, said those she spoke with at the event were not all literally homeless but were there to get certain services, such as flu shots or dental care, that they wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise.
Wahto said she noticed the SmileMobile, which typically provides free dental care to low-income children around the state but was open to all ages Friday, was particularly popular.
“I was just amazed at the amount of work [the SmileMobile dentists] were able to accomplish,” Wahto said.
“[Dental care] is a crying need for poor, single adults.”
A team of five dentists, five dental assistants and two dental hygienists provided free care to 32 people during the day, Luquetta-Cole said.
“It was a huge, huge success,” she said.
“I cannot describe the pain relief in their faces,” Luquetta-Cole said.
“Some had tears in their eyes as they were expressing their gratitude to us for having on-site dental service.
“We all believe that having the on-site dental service had a lot to do with the number of people attending this year,” Luquetta-Cole added.
Flu shots, vaccinations
Others were seen by a team of four medical service providers who were giving flu shots and vaccinations and making referrals.
Still others found help with legal issues, food, Washington identification cards, employment counseling and housing resources.
“We had people saying, 'My rent is up in 15 days, in 30 days, and I have no place to go. What am I going to do?'” Luquetta-Cole said.
“We hook them up with housing resources.”
City Councilman Patrick Downie, who attended, said he is always impressed with how well-organized Project Homeless Connect events are.
“You can see every space available at the Vern Burton gymnasium [was] being used,” Downie said.
Downie was particularly struck by what a difference the free haircuts seemed to make for the attendees who sat down for them.
A team of four hairstylists donated more than 85 haircuts, Luquetta-Cole said.
Said Downie: “They'll come in looking like one person and go out looking like someone else.”
Volunteers with the Food Bank, the Salvation Army, Maids Menus Delights and 20 other volunteers in the kitchen provided food,
Sponsors were the Phillip Family Foundation, Walmart, Olympic View Church of God, Merrill & Ring, Habitat for Humanity, the city of Sequim, First Federal, Olympic Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Maids Menus Delights, State Farm — Ray Gruver, Costco, the Red Lion Hotel, Swain's General Store, Jim's Pharmacy, Plunkin Shack Cafe and Thurman Supply.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ClallamCountyPHC.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at email@example.com.