Making connections, one homeless person at a time
Local nonprofit offers outreach and resources to folks on the streets
Last February, Mike Frick stood before the Hillsboro City Council and delivered impassioned testimony about his life on the streets.
With tears streaming down his bearded cheeks, Frick, 28, told the councilors about the challenges he faced every day when searching for a place to live, applying for jobs and scrounging for food as a homeless man living on Hillsboros streets.
A history of drug use and an old, lingering felony charge hindered every attempt he made to improve his life, Frick said.
A lot of places wont help felons, he said. I feel helpless at this point. I dont know where Im going or what Im going to do.
In the end, Frick asked the councilors for help whatever that might be.
Still homeless seven months later, Frick and more than 200 others attended Washington Countys recent Project Homeless Connect, a twice-yearly event at Sonrise Church in Hillsboro that draws more than 50 agencies and organizations to provide everything from haircuts to hot meals to medical care for the Portland areas homeless population.
"Project Homeless Connect is the epitome of people working together for the greater good," said Kim Marshall, the event's director.
This is your neighbor
For the past decade, Marshall has coordinated the Project once in January to coincide with the countys annual Point-in-Time homeless count, and once in the late summer or early fall, depending on availability and scheduling.
Most of the 60-plus dedicated volunteers at the Sept. 23 event came from Sonrise Church and Hands on Greater Portland, a nonprofit that directs willing volunteers toward event opportunities that match their passions.
But volunteers also come from less expected places, like the handful of Liberty High School students who provided childcare, or the stylists from Great Clips, The Barbers and Absolute Hair who gave more than 100 free haircuts, which goes a long way to improving a persons self esteem, Marshall said. Pacific University provided dental and vision exams, prescribing glasses that could be picked up at the church later.
The contact from something as simple as a haircut, a chiropractic adjustment, or a massage speaks to the humanity of all the people who donate their time, she said.
Although chiropractors and massages are luxuries, theyre also a necessity for this population to have some conversation and talk about what ailments they have, Marshall said.
Weve seen really cool transformations happen through physical touch. You can almost watch people release some of their stuff. Sometimes it happens through tears, but theres just a release that happens when someone is caring on them in this way that isnt just shelter and food.
Homelessness is prevalent in the Portland area, but takes many forms, she said. Its not necessarily the guy in dirty clothes on the side of the road begging for money, she said.
We want to get people to understand this is your neighbor whos struggling whos a paycheck away from being homeless, she explained. This is a 13-year-old child a runaway youth. Its the gamut."
In that sense, she said, Project Homeless Connect is an educational experience for the volunteers. And spreading awareness is a key part of the mission.
Next years to focus on employment, families
Started in 2004 in San Francisco, the project has had variations pop up in more than 200 counties across the nation. Marshall brought the Project to Washington County in 2006, after Multnomah County ended its version.
Its the humanity piece of it that we really want to keep at the forefront of our mission, she said. ...We care about them. We want them to be whole.
With Sonrise Church members encouraging Marshall to bring more Project Homeless Connect events to their Hillsboro location, shes developed plans to offer monthly meals, then maybe weekly meals later care of the Sonrise kitchen.
Although food pantries are wonderful and people are getting access to food, I think theres a difference between having a warm meal having community to sit with versus trying to makeshift a dinner out of ... stuff, Marshall said.
She's also planning Project Employment Connect an intense variation of a job fair that includes mock interviews and resume writing, as well as clothing and haircuts. And next years summer/fall event will focus on families, specifically, to help get kids the materials they need to be successful in school.
"Although affordable housing is the key to making real change around this issue, we can make change in the lives of our homeless friends by providing critical resources immediately," Marshall said.