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Project Homeless Connect Set for November 16

October 30, 2011

Midland area human service agencies concerned with homelessness face an on-going challenge: how to connect people struggling with basic needs to the help they need to stay sheltered.

One response to the challenge is Project Homeless Connect, a one-day, one-stop event on Wednesday, November 16, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Midland.

Sponsored by Midland County Continuum of Care and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, Project Homeless Connect will offer free lunch served by The Open Door, free winter outwear, free personal care items, and free take home food boxes of non-perishables from Hidden Harvest.

In addition, those who attend may avail themselves of housing information, quit smoking help, applications for Department of Human Services assistance, health screenings, and more.

Based on prior years’ experience, some 250 people are expected. Once in the door and registered, they will be directed to make face to face contact with the agencies in the service booths set up throughout the church.

Amanda Johnson, Housing Resource Specialist at Midland Area Homes and coordinator for Project Homeless Connect, has devised a scavenger hunt as a way to assure that those who come will visit the service booths of agencies that assist with utility payments, offer legal aid, or deal with housing and other needs. Individuals who make contact with at least five service booths and collect a star as evidence become eligible to enter the giveaway room to take advantage of the free items.

Johnson oversees the collecting of items for the event and recruits the 50 or more volunteers needed to set up and staff the service booths. She says, “We take over the entire church.”

Another inducement to participation is help with transportation. Dial-a-Ride and County Connection coupons are being distributed through the various agencies. The event is also being announced through postings at grocery stores and restaurants, door knob hangers at trailer parks, and at the Open Door.

As useful as the day may be to those in need of help, participating agencies also benefit. Sharon Mortensen, Executive Director of Shelterhouse, and chair of Midland County Continuum of Care, says, “It’s an opportunity to interface with the client base, a wonderful opportunity to connect.”

At any given time there are 200 to 300 homeless individuals in Midland County. Women with small children are among those most at risk.

“Homeless” includes all who lack stable housing, such as people sleeping on a friend or relative’s couch as well as those facing eviction, staying in a shelter, or wandering the streets. Someone with no identified place to live within seven days is considered homeless.

Thanks to Federal Stimulus Funds, the low income housing situation in Midland County has stabilized somewhat over the last couple of years, according to Sally York, Executive Director of Midland Area Homes.

She says, “The one-time infusion of funds has made it possible to house people we’ve not been able to work with before, including some chronically homeless.” Now that those funds have been exhausted York expects the numbers of homeless to go up again.

Midland County Continuum of Care combines the efforts of 28 agencies to forestall homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

Project Homeless Connect takes place in the middle of National Homeless Awareness Week, held one week before the Thanksgiving holiday as a nationwide effort to promote awareness of hunger and homelessness.

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