Volunteers needed for parking, goodie bags, refreshments and other tasks
On any given day it’s estimated there are 850 homeless people throughout Akron and Summit County, says Fred Berry, housing services manager with Info Line, a nonprofit dedicated to providing access to human service programs offered to improve life quality for all Northeast Ohioans.
Seated with Berry is Sue Pierson, Info Line’s vice president of services and chair of the Akron/Summit County Continuum of Care (COC). They’re preparing for the Project Homeless Connect 5k and 10k Run/Walk Oct. 13 at 9 a.m.
The Run fundraises for Project Homeless Connect, which began five years ago and is held each spring at The Chapel. Connect is a one-day event that enables those experiencing homelessness, financial strain or loss of income to learn about and get assistance from a multitude of available programs.
“The race raises money for the community and nonprofits who participate in Project Homeless Connect,” Berry says.
“This year, Connect served about 910 folks, including more than 100 kids,” says Pierson. “Akron has amazing services for the homeless. And we know for a fact that people from surrounding counties who become homeless will come to Akron,” which factors into the homeless numbers Berry spoke of earlier.
After Connect “guests” arrive, they are paired with a social worker, who performs an intake assessment. “We prioritize their top three needs and try and meet them to the best of our ability,” Berry says.
Guests are next assigned a volunteer chaperone to foster camaraderie and help navigate the event. Approximately 70 providers deliver on-the-spot assistance with free services such as obtaining IDs, birth certificates, drug, alcohol, vision and mental health screenings, dental care and even off-site mammograms.
Connect’s theme is “hospitality, compassion and a welcoming environment,” Berry says.
Connect’s roots date back to 2004 with Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, where he helped launch the initiative to address his city’s burgeoning homeless population. “He recognized there was a disconnect for provision of services for folks trying to navigate the homeless system,” Berry says. “And he thought wouldn’t it be great to get everybody together in one place. And Akron was the first Ohio city to start a Project Homeless Connect.”
There’s still time to register for the Run/Walk, and race officials predict there might be as many as 450 participants.
But Pierson and Berry are still in great need of volunteers to assist with registration, parking, water stations, guiding runners, distributing prizes, T-shirts and goodie bags.
The Summit Lake Community Center is the start and finish of the race, which is sponsored by the Akron/Summit County COC and will play out much of its course along the waterfront.
Open to all ages, the Run/Walk will provide a post-race meal and drink to participants, who will be entered in prize drawings. Runners will be issued a computer chip imbedded in their bib. “When they cross the finish line’s pad, their time is automatically recorded,” Pierson says.
“Nobody chooses to be homeless,” Berry says.