By Lucy Ruscitto | Staff Writer
The Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition will host the biannual “Project Homeless Connect,” from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday at the First Baptist Church of Waco.
Project Homeless Connect is a community resource for the homeless in Waco and McLennan County, and provides services they may need.
The Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition said that at this event, stations will be set up with services for vision and dental screenings, HIV testing and haircuts. Additionally, hygiene items and housing information will be available. The local animal hospital will attend the event to provide vaccinations and to spay or neuter pets if needed.
Stacey Steger is a Board Member of both the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition and the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness Program Supervisor for the Mental Health Mental Retardation Center.
“We go out in the community, under the bridges, in the shelters, at the park, and try to encounter individuals experiencing homelessness,” Steger said. “They may need mental health care, substance abuse treatment, an ID, access to employment services, disability claims…We really just try to get the resources they need to live a healthy and whole life.”
Steger said she believes a goal of Project Homeless Connect is to create a “one-stop shop” while working with other community organizations to create local unity.
Thanks to the local organization Keep Waco Loud, a group that gives local artists a chance of exposure, live music will also be performed by artist Stephany A-Chivera at the event.
This event was introduced in 2005 by Veteran Affairs (VA) for McLennan County and was originally called ‘Stand Down.’
“As we started bringing in other community partnerships, it evolved into the project. Not just the VA, but the entire community, including the VA,” Steger said.
Shaun Lee is Chairman for the Texas Homeless Coalition. Lee said that in his role, his main goal is to motivate about 50 other organizations to get involved in the coalition.
Lee said he loves how the event unifies Waco as a whole, when oftentimes the entirety of the community can never be in one place at one time.
“This event is so well-known in the community that everybody comes out for that,” Lee said. “Sometimes the people we work with are pretty difficult to engage in a project like this, so bringing all of the resources together really makes it something that they want to come to.”
Steger said that although the numbers of the homeless have steadily decreased as the years go by, Waco will always continue to house those in need.
“Our location, being an I-35 corridor between Dallas and Austin, we’re always going to see a lot of individuals coming through town who are in need of services right now just based on our location,” Steger said.
She also said that those affected by homelessness are often discouraged by those they interact with on a daily basis.
“What I’ve heard over and over again is people that say, ‘I feel like a ghost. I feel invisible because people walk right by me’, as opposed to being acknowledged,” Steger said.
Steger and Lee’s said their ultimate takeaway for Project Homeless Connect is for those who experience it, either from the outside or inside, to realize that its purpose is to “restore dignity and hope in the community.”
“Meeting individuals, speaking with them, learning their stories and giving a name to a face [is the best way to help],” Steger said. “I think when we’re able to call somebody by their name, I think that’s the greatest thing we can do to instill dignity and self-worth in a person.”