Mat-Su homeless get a helping hand

Published: Jan. 24, 2018 at 7:53 PM AKST
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The temperature outside the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla Wednesday morning was a bone-chilling 8-degrees, but inside there was the warmth that comes from generosity and compassion.

60 agencies, vendors and individual providers took part in the Mat-Su Homeless Connect event.

"We do it because we're compelled to. That's the way our hearts are for the community" said Laurie Kari, with Family Promise Mat-Su.

Volunteers handed out warm clothing, served hot meals, provided medical check-ups and provided confidential counseling. Last year, the event served approximately 200 people, and this year, organizers were prepared to give a hand up to 300 people who are homeless, or on the brink of becoming homeless.

"I live basically in an arctic entryway, and it's pretty rough when it gets cold" said Leroy Wood, who came to the event to get care for an aching tooth and to look for clothing. He added "I know I'm not exactly on the street, but I'm like one foot out there, and I really don't want to be. And to help all these people that they do, it's like God's gift. It's great, I appreciate it with all my heart."

Some of the groups taking part say they've noticed recently that's more of a need. "I feel like this winter, we have way more people in tents and cars than we've had in the past. It seems like some of the camps are a little bit bigger" said Laurie Phillips with the Wasilla Homeless Committee.

The Mat-Su Coalition on Housing and Homelessness provided assistance to 2,387 people in 2017. The largest age group for assistance included children, ages 17 and younger. 38-percent, or approximately 800 children, received aid.

"That's surprising to a lot of folks, but what that shows is that we help a lot of families with children" said Dave Rose with the Mat-Su Homeless Coalition. "So, if a mom comes in and she's recently divorced and she's got three children, that's one adult and three children" he added.

Volunteers say many people don't realize the extent of the homelessness problem in the Mat-Su Borough.

"It's everywhere. It's just not out on the streets like it is in Anchorage" said Laurie Phillips. "We have way less pan handlers and we have people that live in the woods, so you don't see them on the streets like you do in Anchorage."

There are three homeless shelter in the Mat-Su, and they are all either at capacity or close to being full.

As for long term solutions, organizations say it's a complex situation.

"It's a tough problem to solve because it involves at least four different areas" said Rose. "Are you employable? Are you well enough to go to work? Do you have transportation, and here in the Mat-Su valley, we can't just get on a bus and go to the next corner or to the next job center. And then, do you have a place to stay at night so that you can get rested and go back to work the next day? So, it's all mixed in together."

The goal, for this day of compassion, was to provide some basics needs, and maybe give people who were seeking help a glimmer of hope.

For more information on services for the homeless in the Mat-Su, click