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Homeless, yet connected

Volunteers provide haircuts, eye exams, physical therapy to 400 people during annual Washington County event


NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Pacific University optometry student (and Project  Homeless Connect volunteer) Drew Perry gives a free eye exam to Kimberly Koessler, who spent most of the day volunteering herself before getting her first-ever vision test.More than 400 homeless people from all corners of Washington County trekked to Sonrise Church in Hillsboro last Friday, Jan. 29, for the 10th annual Project Homeless Connect.

Volunteer hair stylists awaited them there, along with students, faculty and staff from Pacific University’s optometry, dental and — for the first time — physical therapy programs, all volunteering their services to people who can’t afford a room or regular meals, let alone a doctor or a haircut.

Since the first Homeless Connect event in 2006, the number of attendees has mirrored the fluctuations in the county’s homeless population, said Annette Evans, homeless program coordinator for Washington County.

Event attendees increased in 2009 and 2010, during the toughest years of the recession, peaking at 560 in January 2011, said Kim Marshall, Washington County Project Homeless Connect coordinator.

But they went back down the next few years as Washington County housing leaders started enacting parts of their “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness,” Evans said.

The January 2013 point-in-time homeless census counted 432 homeless people across Washington County, with “homeless” referring to people living on the streets, in their vehicles or in shelters or transitional housing — not couch-surfing at the homes of friends or relatives.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Volunteer Peggy Lee cuts and styles Amy Munro's hair during the 10th annual Project Homeless Connect at Sonrise Church in Hillsboro. Free haircuts were one of many services offered to the homeless people who attended.

In the fall of that year, however, rents started going up and the housing market tightened, Evans said: a one-bedroom apartment that rented for $741 in the second quarter of 2012 rented for $1,121 three years later, the same year the point-in-time homeless census counted 591 homeless people across the county.

Staff from nonprofits Community Action and Luke-Dorf, along with community partners and volunteers conducted this year’s point-in-time homeless census in western Washington County Monday, Jan. 25. Results are still being recorded and vetted and will not be available for four to eight weeks, Evans said.Will Goswitz of Washington County Bicycle Transportation Coalition repairs bikes for homeless people outside Project Homeless Connect in Hillsboro last Friday.

This year, Homeless Connect attendees also had the chance to talk with a variety of experts who staffed booths for veterans’ services, shelters, Oregon’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the Hillsboro Police Department, voter registration and more, Marshall said.

Legacy Health donated more than 1,500 pairs of socks, she said.