- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Wednesday’s Homeless Resource Day assisted 136 heads of households and their families to receive services offered by more than 40 community agencies.
According to the Charles County Department of Health’s point-in-time survey of homeless people conducted by service providers in January 2013, of the 856 surveys completed, 32 percent of households reported chronic homelessness, being homeless more than once in the preceding year.
Planned by the Charles County Homeless & Emergency Shelter Committee and held at Health Partners Clinic and the Jaycees center in Waldorf, Homeless Resource Day brings vision and dental screenings, job resources, Veterans Affairs benefits information, HIV testing, clothing, flu shots, mammography screening and other services to people who are in need.
Michael Akonom, 29, came to Homeless Resource Day last year as a participant, and this year attended as a volunteer. He said he likes to help people and thought he would be able to help as a navigator this year. Navigators evaluate the needs of each participant and guide them to the different sources of information available at the event.
“I sought out everything to get the best of everything [offered],” Akonom said of his experience last year at Homeless Resource Day. He said he recognized a resource might be to his benefit although at the time he might not have needed it. Among the resources Akonom explored were signing up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamps — and getting a dental screening.
This year, Akonom, who has been homeless since 2003, said he met a lot of new people and was able to give advice to others in need about certain resources that are available to them, such as food pantries and shelters.
Akonom grew up in Baltimore in the foster care system, and aged out of a group home when he was 21, at which time he became homeless. He said Homeless Resource Day made him realize he was not alone in his situation.
“Seeing other people in my situation just made me want to help out more cause I can relate,” Akonom said. For now, he stays with a friend off and on in Brandywine and is looking for work.
Vanessa Ortic, 29, and her mother, Angela Ortic, 59, were visiting Vanessa’s sister, Maria Ortic, in Waldorf on vacation from Honduras when Vanessa found a lump in her breast. Maria Ortic said she found out about Homeless Resource Day on the Internet, and thought it best for her mother and sister to both receive mammography screenings.
“I think this is a great place for people who don’t have the means or any way to get help,” Maria Ortic said. Her mother does not have health insurance in Honduras.
Constance White, 65, lives in La Plata and attended Wednesday’s event for the first time for the vision, hearing and dental screenings. She has health insurance, but it does not cover all of her health expenses.
“Every area that I have gone to people have been so kind,” said White, who is retired and works part time. “The information has been very, very helpful.” She said she did not know glaucoma testing would be available at the event, and that she will return to next year’s Homeless Resource Day.
She also received a mammography screening and gathered information about health insurance options that might be more affordable than her current insurance.
“Everything that was offered was very beneficial to me, and I’m sure to all the others who attended,” White said.
Marilyn Franklin, executive chairwoman of the International Understanding and Business Opportunities Committee of the Southern Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce, has volunteered at four Homeless Resource Days. She said one time she navigated a 70-year-old participant, and the need in the county is great.
“It’s so rewarding to come and help the community,” Franklin said. “It’s services that are needed, a friendly atmosphere. It’s great to see the community come together.”
Mary Jackson of Accokeek volunteered for the first time at this year’s Homeless Resource Day because she said she is a person who likes to help out. She serves as a missionary for her church, Macedonia Baptist Church in Bryans Road, and said volunteering as a navigator is similar to being a missionary.
“I think this is wonderful,” Jackson said, adding that the event is especially good for people who do not have health insurance.
Jackson, who had been on furlough during the government shutdown from her job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said she will return next year to volunteer as a navigator.
“It’s so rewarding,” Jackson said.
Sandy O. Washington, executive director of LifeStyles of Maryland, a nonprofit focused on providing for community members in need, said 15 minutes after the event began 75 people already had registered to receive services.
“I think the end result was something beneficial to our homeless residents in the county,” said Lisa Bryant, executive director of the United Way of Charles County.
Chrisie Mulcahey, executive director of Health Partners, said this was the sixth Homeless Resource Day. The first event was held in 2010. The event was at first held every May and October, but May attendance was low.
“You won’t find an unhappy face in here,” Mulcahey said, adding that some people who need certain services, but do not know where to find the services, attend the event.