SALT LAKE CITY — After last year's inaugural Project Homeless Connect — a one-day, one-stop shop for the state's most needy — helped nearly 800 people experiencing homelessness, city leaders hope this year's iteration will do even more.
"We are hoping for an even bigger and better event this year," said Mike Akerlow, chairman of Project Homeless Connect and CEO of Community Development Corp. of Utah.
But to do that, "we need the community," Akerlow said.
Akerlow, who helped organize last year's event before he left his position at Salt Lake City, joined Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski on Wednesday to announce the second annual Project Homeless Connect on Oct. 12 — but also to call for volunteers.
"Project Homeless Connect is a life-changing experience for everyone that is involved and participates in this endeavor," Biskupski said. "I hope that you will join us this year."
Last year, Akerlow said, "we didn't know what to expect" — whether volunteers or homeless individuals would even show up.
But it turned out that 784 homeless people came to the event, where 103 service providers helped them get haircuts, immunizations, medical and dental care, substance abuse counseling, housing services, employment assistance, legal and financial assistance and more, according to organizers.
More than 500 volunteers came to not only help connect homeless individuals to services but made personal connections with people who needed it most, Akerlow said.
"One of the things (homeless individuals say) they desire most is to be recognized as a person — to have someone look into their eyes without fear or judgment, and that happens at Project Homeless Connect," Akerlow said, noting that last year many people "were in tears because they not only received services but because someone took the time to meet with them."
In preparation for Oct. 12, Akerlow and Biskupski called on communities throughout the state to help fill the 800 volunteer slots needed to host the event at the Salt Palace Convention Center. They expect an increase of homeless individuals seeking services.
Volunteers will help with a variety of services, Akerlow said, including being matched with a client to guide them through the daylong event.
Cara Baldwin, who volunteered last year, said she had two "powerful takeaways" from Project Homeless Connect: how moving it was to see people from so many different organizations collaborate to help people in need, and also to actually see homeless individuals as human beings.
"Coming here helped me to think and remember these are people," Baldwin said. "We are talking about people. They're not a problem; they're not things to be solved. We're talking about people."Comment on this story
Baldwin said she "really, really loved" to watch their faces change as they were connected with services in an efficient and quick way.
"That was so powerful," Baldwin said. "I look forward to this year."
Salt Lake City's Project Homeless Connect is part of a national movement to help people experiencing homelessness, with events that have taken place in cities including San Francisco, Denver and Washington, D.C.
For more information about the Oct. 12 event or to sign up to be a volunteer, visit phcslc.org.