The last several months have been hard on Angie Morales and her family.
She was evicted from her home. She had to quit her job as a certified nursing assistant and go on bed rest because of a high-risk pregnancy that could have killed her and her unborn baby. She suffered a miscarriage anyway, as well as the ensuing emotional trauma. She lived with her husband and three young children in a leaky tent for more than four months.
“It was one thing after another,” said Morales, 28. “It was bad. Horrible. The worst thing ever. It’s something I don’t wish upon anybody – not even my worst enemy.”
Morales and her family – her husband Neftali Morales, 28, who has a seasonal job with a local landscaping company, and her children, Carlos, 10, Nadia, 8, and Aileya, 2 – moved into transitional housing in September.
They’re getting back on track, but the struggle isn’t over.
The family was among many that attended the first-ever Homeless Connect Thursday, an event that provided those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with information on vital services such as housing, employment opportunities, health care, food and free medical and dental screenings. More than 35 agencies were represented.
“Many other communities, we found, were having events like this,” said Ron Hardin, spokesman for the Spokane Homeless Coalition, which put on the event. “The homeless and vulnerable in the community have problems with transportation and if all of the services can be in one location, it’s a tremendous benefit to them.”
Hardin said between 250 and 275 attended “which is, for the first time, an excellent response.”
Attendees were also able to register to vote and find out how to contact their representatives. While things such as civic engagement can fall by the wayside when one is hungry and homeless, it may be particularly important for vulnerable populations, said James Fulwider, an event organizer.
“They’re the most affected by cuts to programs and people should have a say in the decisions that directly affect them,” Fulwider said.
In Idaho, the Region 1 Coalition for the Homeless held its fifth annual Project Homeless Connect in Post Falls on Thursday and offered many of the same services. Both events coincided with the cities’ point-in-time counts, an annual census of homelessness used to provide a statistical snapshot of regional needs.
Those who attended the Spokane event picked up gloves, hats, blankets and toiletries and enjoyed a hot meal. A local business, Quick’s Barbershop, also provided free haircuts.
“We really want to just give back,” said barber Phil Ward. “It’s a good thing for the business and the community.”
He said it was a learning lesson, too.
“It’s been really humbling just being here,” Ward said. “We take things for granted in life. Being here and speaking with different people in the community is so humbling because so many are without. They’re good people that got themselves in a bad situation. It’s so surreal. It’s amazing how easy you can lose it all.”
In addition to social services, the event connected some with hope.
“It helps a lot,” Morales said. “It makes you realize you’re not alone.”