Connecting the homeless with services


By Sue Cody


Homeless ConnectIf you are living on the streets, looking for your next meal or help finding housing, Project Homeless Connect can be your lifeline for services.


From free haircuts, immunizations, eye and hearing exams to a free meal and valid ID, 45 agencies and 80 volunteers are prepared to serve people in need at the eighth annual event on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Seaside Convention Center, 415 First Ave. Sunset Empire Transportation District offers free buses to the event all day.


Project Homeless Connect began in San Francisco in 2004 as a one-day, one-stop gathering to help the homeless and most vulnerable population connect to services and resources.


Nine years ago, Clatsop County resident Jessica Maclay visited San Francisco to see how the project was organized, in hopes of starting a smaller version here. Viviana Matthews, current Clatsop Community Action (CCA) deputy director, helped Maclay set up the first event in 2010.


Maclay was tragically killed in car accident the next year.


Now, Matthews and case manager Gino Fellin organize the event.


CCA has seen the growing need to mobilize and coordinate resources, as the population it serves has tripled, from 407 people in 2011, to 1,236 in 2016. The organization offers assistance in housing, energy, case management, food, mental health and connection to resources.


From intake to exit interview


In the lobby of the Seaside Convention Center, experienced volunteers assist Project Homeless Connect participants fill out intake forms to identify the services they need. The idea is to connect the participant with the many agencies and services available in the county, Fellin says.


“We refer people to agencies that most homeless people don’t know about,” he says. “It is a major ordeal for them, and we can help them connect with all agencies in one place.”


Participants are paired with Tongue Point Job Corps student guides, who escort them to the services they have checked on their intake form. All volunteers take an oath of confidentiality, so no one’s personal information is shared.


The main exhibition area is divided into color-coded aisles, such as health services, transportation and family resources.


One of the most popular stations offers free haircuts. “There is usually a line of people waiting for a haircut,” says Matthews.


Agencies offer assistance with housing, immunizations, hearing and sight screening, drug and alcohol recovery information, Social Security card applications, veteran services, transportation and much more.


One newly formed group, Riverfolk, helps the homeless acquire identification and birth certificates. It also offers free meals on Sundays at the Astoria Armory.


The nursing staff and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) students at Clatsop Community College volunteer to assist the Lions with eye and hearing exams.


Everyone who enters receives a free meal, provided by CCA and cooked by Lighthouse Christian Church.


“It is a good time for participants and volunteers to sit down together,” says Matthews. “Project Homeless Connect is not only about helping people connect to services, but also to other individuals.”


All volunteers and participants have an exit interview, and are asked how to improve the next year.


“We want to have this be a great experience for everyone – the participants and the volunteers,” Fellin says.


Organization and funding


Agencies participating in the project meet monthly, and organization gets underway in October. Matthews sees the importance of Homeless Connect in three ways.


  1. Federal and state counting of homeless people is different, and that is a factor in funding. Oregon counts people who are staying with friends or relatives or “couch surfing,” as homeless, but federal agencies do not. The federal government collects different data each year, and changes the requirements for information collected. That means the intake forms for Homeless Connect need to be revised. What the government decides to fund may change.
  2. Forty-five agencies provide information for Clatsop County, whether or not they are based in the county. Veterans without benefits, people needing to connect to SNAP (food stamps), others needing mental health resources are all served in one place.
  3. Agencies also connect with each other. In public health, there is a high staff turnover. Many are unsure of what the county offers. Here they can connect and see what the other agencies offer.


“I see agencies coming back each year, so we must be doing something right.” 


The nursing staff, CNA students and Job Corps students are also crucial to success. “We can’t do this without the volunteers,” Matthews says.


The annual event is a labor of love for Matthews and Fellin. “I love helping people,” says Fellin.


“We dance so well together,” Matthews says of their collaboration. They each know what the other is doing and can anticipate what needs to be done.


Matthews says, “I like to keep inspiring people to pay it forward. If I can inspire someone, I have done my job. If we pay it forward we can evolve as human beings.”


Donations welcome


Funding for the event comes from state and federal agencies along with local United Way and private donations.


Matthews says cash donations are most appreciated because some services require a fee, like birth certificates or other ID, and bus tickets for medical care. CCA maximizes donations with partnerships like the Dollar Store, where it gets a discount on much-needed personal care items


Checks may be sent to CCA, 364 Ninth St., Astoria. CCA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, so any donation is tax deductible. Your donation can be directed to Project Homeless Connect, personal care, the food bank, housing or your choice of service, Matthews says.


Helping Hands is gathering donations of personal care items such as shampoo, soap, diapers, shaving supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Items can be delivered to Project Homeless Connect or taken in advance to Helping Hands District Office, 1010 Third St. in Seaside. 


Community Action Resource Enterprises in Tillamook held a similar event Jan 25, with a free hot meal, clothing, toiletries, first aid items, haircuts, bedding, tents and tarps.


The Way to Wellville and its sponsor, Columbia Pacific CCO, support healthy activities and projects such as Project Homeless Connect.