“One-stop-shop” connects area homeless with vital services

Volunteer Katie Budge cuts Debra Guzman’s hair during Friday’s Project Homeless Connect event at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. More than 200 volunteers and 75 organizations turned out to provide a one-stop shop for the homeless and at-risk homeless. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

For the first time in its history, the At-Risk Housing Coalition turned to the Missoula County Fairgrounds on Friday to host its 11th annual event aimed at providing the homeless, and those at risk of becoming homeless, a one-stop shop for services.

Spread across the fairgrounds, Project Homeless Connect saw a steady crowd of clients pass through the line of services, as well as the organizations and volunteers who came together to provide them with everything from birth certificates to haircuts to Medicaid enrollment.

“What can normally take months for people to get done – get all their services and needs met – we’re doing it all in one day,” said Theresa Williams, a project organizer with United Way of Missoula. “It’s a lot of work, but when you have multiple people helping, it makes it a lot easier.”

According to the United Way, a point-in-time survey conducted last year found that 395 people were experiencing homelessness in Missoula. Of those, 32 percent were families that, when combined, included 78 children.

The statistics also suggest that 38 percent of those identified in the survey were experiencing homelessness for the first time. Roughly 15 percent were considered chronically homeless.

Project Homeless Connect drew hundreds to the Missoula County Fairgrounds on Friday to access vital community services. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

“I work with the homeless outreach team, so I know quite a few of the people who come through,” said Will Gardner with the Poverello Center. “The main goal of the program is to build a housing relationship with the people living on the street. We’re there to be a bridge for people that might not otherwise accept services from other people.”

More than 75 nonprofits and 200 volunteers came together at the fairgrounds to pull off Friday’s event. Services included low-income energy assistance, veteran services, and credit reports and financial counseling offered by Homeword.

“We recognize that the underlying causes and contributing factors of homelessness and poverty are complex, but for one day, we can offer hope,” said Williams. “It’s been going smooth because we have so many people on our planning committee through the At-Risk Housing Coalition.”

Williams placed the cost of the event at between $5,000 and $7,000. The city of Missoula and Missoula County, along with United Way, Blackfoot Communications, Southgate Mall and private donations, helped fund the event.

“The lines usually around haircuts, dental hygiene, birth certificates and benefits – that’s where we see the majority of people go initially,” said Williams. “Those are the hot services.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com