Project Homeless Connect serves a community


By Sue Cody


Homeless connect 1Imagine if you were homeless, what would it feel like to get a free haircut, a hot meal, new eyeglasses or a health screening? People representing more than 130 households found out at Project Homeless Connect Jan. 28.


In its seventh year, Clatsop County’s Homeless Connect is held at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. Organizer Viviana Matthews says you can add 10 to 15 percent to that number to get a more accurate number of people served. Matthews is the lead case manager at Clatsop Community Action (CCA).


Project Homeless Connect is a national event offering services to the homeless and near-homeless populations. Services include free haircuts, registering for health benefits, vision and hearing screening, housing, employment, food and other social services. A free hot meal is served to everyone.


More than 90 volunteers keep the program running smoothly as individuals move from intake, where their needs are identified, to a tour of services. Each person or group is paired with a personal guide ­– a volunteer – who leads them to the location of services they indicated on their intake form.


Volunteers represent many agencies, support groups, service clubs and a few businesses. Students from Astoria High School’s Leadership program assist along with students from Clatsop Community College’s (CCC) Nursing and Medical Assistance programs. The nursing assistants work half the day with assessment and the other half acting as guides.


“It is eye-opening for the students,” says Holly Tumbarello, CCC’s medical assistant coordinator. “The homeless individual doesn’t always look like what the students are expecting. There are kids living in a car or tent with a parent. Students have an opportunity to sit down and eat lunch with an individual. It’s very educational.”


Over the years, the Clatsop County offering has been refined, says Elaine Bruce, CCA executive director. This year, the 47 agency participants are organized by category:


• Health testing/Immunizations

• Food

• Haircuts

• Housing

• Employment

• Identification

• Legal

• Family/Education/Social services


Each category has a row of tables, manned by volunteers with informational displays and useful items. The Coast Pregnancy Clinic gives out baby clothing, food and diapers.


North West Transportation Options offers walking and biking maps for people who don’t drive. A bicycle wheel holds bright red cards indicating prizes participants can win by spinning the wheel. Prizes are water bottles, bicycle reflectors, tote bags and more.


“It is a great opportunity to be here,” says Shasia Fry, transportation specialist. “It is neat to see the other vendors and make good connections.”


Homeless connect 3Kallie Linder from Salon Boheme is giving free haircuts. She says it makes a huge difference in people’s attitudes. “It also helps in the interview process.”


Linder says she volunteered because, “as a business owner I think it is important to support the community that supports you.”


Homeless connect 2Health screening


The Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation station is busy with Astoria Lions Club members providing intake.


Charlene Larsen, past president of the Astoria Lions Club, says after an individual receives an eye screening, they make an appointment for an exam with an optometrist, if needed. She says the Astoria Lions spends $20,000 a year for glasses and hearing aids. They raise money by hosting barbecues and recycling newspapers at 31st Street, near the Riverwalk. They also collect donations through Astoria Lions Charity Inc., a nonprofit.


CCA’s Bruce says, “One thing that is different this year, is they have vouchers for eyeglasses.”


By 2 p.m. at the Convention Center, the Lions have screened 37 people and 75 percent of those need follow-up exams, Larsen says.


Warren Heathman, of Portland, tests individuals with the assistance of CCC’s nursing students. They screen for diabetes, hearing, eyesight and blood pressure. Heathman pricks fingers and does a three-second blood test for diabetes, while students screen for eyesight and hearing


Heathman says he has been involved with Lions nearly 60 years. He has been active with the Sight and Hearing since it began in 1959, serving around 150,000 people in 12 countries around the world. He says he can screen between 200 and 600 kids in 2 ½ hours.


But Heathman is not a doctor or optometrist, he was in the steel fabricating business. Now he travels doing screenings for school children and at events like Project Homeless Connect.