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Local News: Project Homeless Connect helps local homeless

Local News: Project Homeless Connect helps local homeless

About 200 people attended the annual Project Homeless Connect in Seaside, a free walk-in day of services for the homeless held at the Seaside Convention Center. The event is in its 10th year. It’s one of about 200 such events held in cities nationwide. Joanne Rideout reports.

(Script follows, scroll down to Listen [3:48])

The huge event space in the convention center is buzzing with people, partitioned off at tables offering services for the homeless. Susan Prettyman is social services program manager for Clatsop Community Action.

Susan Prettyman: “Project Homeless Connect was founded in 2005 in San Francisco, and this is our 10th year doing it here. Clatsop Community Action puts the event on every year. And it’s kind of a one-stop shop for people experiencing homelessness. Or just a low income family who needs to be connected with services. And we’re just a place where people can get connected with services that they need. We have a dental van here, we have immunizations. A free meal for everybody. And the bus runs for free so people can get here.

The bus is the county’s municipal bus service, Sunset Empire Transportation District offers a free rider appreciation day every year, and times it to coincide with Homeless Connect.

Prettyman said by early afternoon Wednesday, the event was already surpassing last year’s count.

Susan Prettyman: “Yeah so last year we had about a hundred. And we still have about an hour to go and we’re already at about 160. So we’ve definitely seen an increase already today.”

Fifty-five agencies have gathered here to help the homeless today.

Susan Prettyman: “The red area is medical services, we have VA services, family services.”

Prettyman said when homeless attendees arrive at the event, they’re assigned to a guide in a yellow shirt who helps them navigate the confusing array of options.

Susan Prettyman: “And those guys have the menus there so they know exactly where everything is, they’ve come and they’ve toured it. So that way they can help the participants even better get to their services even quicker.”

She said the long term benefits for attendees can be profound, such as helping people sign up for the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s low income health coverage program.

Viviana Matthews is executive director of Project Homeless Connect. She said that while Homeless Connect events are held in about 30 cities nationwide, the Seaside event is listed on the agency’s website as a memorial to a deceased local employee, Jessica Maclay, who worked for Clatsop Community Action as a case manager for homeless services.

Viviana Matthews: “Jessica Maclay was the one who brought Project Homeless Connect into Clatsop County in 2010. And she pretty much organized the event with the committee. She did it twice and by the third time she was killed in a tragic accident. And then after that we decided on keeping her memory alive by continuing the project.”

Maclay died in 2011 when her car spun out on ice on Highway 26 near Seaside and hit a parked fire truck that was responding to other accidents nearby.

Wanda Harris also works with Clatsop Community Action. She was stationed at at table near the exit door, talk with attendees about why they came to the event and what they might like to see next time they come. She said many are seeking housing, and used the dental services van there. Some got flu shots.

Wanda Harris: “One young lady was very overwhelmed by everything that was here. And then someone who used to be an EMT in our community and is now homeless. He gave us a lot of good ideas, for, you know, health and safety precautions. Providing masks and gloves to people coming in who maybe have compromised immune systems. He was very aware and knowledgeable.”

Harris said people have a misconception that homeless people come from somewhere else to use local services. She said that’s often not so. The EMT, for example, who gave the group such good medical advice for future planning, used to live here, lost his job and housing, and is now homeless.

According to Clatsop Community Action, the county has over 1,400 homeless people. More than 300 of those are children. In Seaside, I’m Joanne Rideout reporting.