Project Community Connect: Missoula’s homeless residents find help they never knew existed

Nadine Stalnaker, a hairstylist at Altruist Salon, cuts Albert Geiser’s hair during the Project Community Connect event on Friday. The event offers free haircuts to those who need them. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

David Telford lost all his belongings in a car fire when he drove to Missoula four months ago.

Networking with local people and agencies saved him.

Missoula’s annual Project Community Connect makes that network a bit easier to establish. On Friday, Telford got new clothes and a sleeping bag at the event.

“This is one of the rare, really good things that you don’t see in big cities. I lived in LA and there’s nothing like this,” Telford said.

Project Community Connect hosted its 13th annual event Friday at Zootown Church, with more than 50 agencies providing critical services for those who need them: medical care, housing assistance, addiction counseling, clothing and haircuts.

This year, Homeword, a Missoula organization that assists with housing, helped homelessness residents with renter resumes and cover letters to improve their chances of being approved for housing.

The city’s Housing and Community Development office conducted its annual point-in-time survey Thursday night, talking to over 100 people who may be experiencing homelessness.

Project Connect followed up on Friday, asking participants to take the survey as well. The information gives the city data to use in applying for grants and to help guide Missoula’s 10-year initiative to end homelessness.

“We know that a lot of people have barriers to housing if they’re experiencing homelessness or a housing crisis, so at this event we want to help them identify what those barriers are so they can start working on them,” Housing and Community Development Reaching Home coordinator Theresa Williams said.

Telford works in construction, and during the winter lives at the Poverello Center long term.

Six years ago, he attended his first Project Community Connect event, and returns every year from traveling all over the country to access services or items he needs, including employment. This year, a few friends from the Poverello Center came with him, and were able to look into housing. One organization paid for his friend’s service animal certification paperwork.

“There are so many services here, it’s unreal,” he said.

Samantha Hilliard, who works with the housing program at Open Aids Alliance, worked at the Poverello Center on the Homeless Outreach Team for four years, and understands that the resources provided during Friday’s event can change a person’s life.

“It may seem like a really simple thing, but maybe getting some dental work that needs taken care of or a haircut, those are really big, immediate things that get filled,” she said. “Really, I think there are services here that folks might not even know about that they’re going to get access to, which is huge.”