Washington County's sixth annual Project Homeless Connect kicks into gear Thursday and Friday with special events planned at the Embassy Suites in Tigard and Sonrise Church in Hillsboro.

The mission of the initiative is to bring communities together to create and promote tangible solutions for neighbors who are homeless.

With the number of people living in poverty on the rise, homelessness is becoming a much larger issue. As part of Project Homeless Connect, community leaders will meet with internationally renowned homeless advocate, Philip F. Mangano, on Thursday morning at 7:30 during a breakfast hosted by the Vision Action Network and Westside Economic Alliance at the Embassy Suites, 9000 S.W. Washington Square Road.

Mangano is the foremost expert on the complex issue of homelessness, serving as the former executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness under both President Bush and President Obama.

'Homelessness is a growing problem in our community' said Jonathan Schlueter, executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance. 'We can no longer ignore it or hope it simply goes away. Business and community leaders need to understand the hidden costs of homelessness, and the innovative ways we can lower these costs and reduce these problems.'

The 2011 Washington County Point-in-Time Homeless Count found 1,356 Washington County residents living without permanent shelter, more than 85 percent of these individuals living in cars or on the streets. Washington County school districts reported that 2,383 students were homeless during the 2010-11 school year, up from 1,432 in 2007-2008.

As of Jan. 18, the Beaverton School District has identified 1,303 homeless students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are attending schools this school year. That number has increased by 203 students since this same time last year, said Lisa Mentesana, Title X social support program specialist.

'We have documented 119 more homeless, unaccompanied youth (living without a parent or a guardian), 22 more students were living unsheltered at the point of referral, and 10 additional students were referred to us through the Washington County shelter system,' she added.

During Thursday's forum, Washington County community leaders from all sectors - nonprofit, public, private and faith communities - will learn more about what strategies can be employed to solve this issue.

Mangano will focus on the business case for ending homelessness and implementing proven solutions. He will discuss the innovative Housing First strategy, which is a new model to address homelessness. It involves moving the vulnerable individual or family immediately from the streets or homeless shelters into their own apartments and then providing them with the services and support they need to become stable and successful.

'This program will inform and inspire our members and guests with creative solutions to reduce homelessness and create better communities for all,' Schlueter added.

Individuals and families experiencing financial hardships will immediately be able to get connected to services Friday during a one-day, one-stop event at Sonrise Church, 6701 N.E. Campus Way, in Hillsboro. Those wishing to attend can take MAX to the Orenco stop. Doors open at 9 a.m. Both breakfast and lunch will be provided.

More than 70 community partners and about 150 volunteers will provide services such as health and dental care, haircuts, food, clothing, hygiene items and connections to needed housing and social services. Participants will also be able to take showers, get flu shots and H1N1 vaccinations as well as get tested for HIV. Volunteers will also have an array of information available about employment opportunities, vocational rehabilitation, veteran services and temporary assistance.

For more information, call Project Homeless Connect coordinator Kim Marshall at 503-201-2631, visit or stop by the all-day event on Friday.

To register for Thursday breakfast, contact the Westside Economic Alliance at 503-968-3100. Community leaders from all sectors are encouraged to attend.

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