The Hillsdale County Project Homeless Connect brought together more than 25 organizations Tuesday to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ of human services for homeless people and those in need at Hillsdale Free Methodist Church.
Project Homeless Connect, sponsored by the Hillsdale County Housing Continuum of Care, has brought local non-profit organizations to one location, offering hot meals, haircuts, employment and education opportunities, mental health services, and personal items to those in need since 2009.
Cassandra Willoughby, the Salvation Army’s case manager, was one of 178 volunteers, providing toys and personal care items to children.
“We come every year to provide social services and to link people to resources to meet their needs,” said Willoughby.
Bekah Hampton, a hairdresser at Studio 17, was one of three employees at the studio who chose to work at Project Homeless Connect for the day, closing Studio 17 on Tuesday morning.
“It’s a great opportunity to reach out to those who normally wouldn’t come to our business. It’s really a humbling experience to give a haircut to someone who needs it, and to make them feel better about themselves — that’s kind of why we do what we do,” Hampton said.
One organization, Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness (CAPA), educated new parents on safe sleeping habits for infants — information which could have prevented two Hillsdale County infant deaths in the past year.
Many attending weren’t homeless, but came for free food and services.
“Some of these people just need a little help. One man received his first haircut in five years today. The hairdressers are the real superstars here,” Hillsdale County Director of Community Action Agency Maxine Vanlerberg said.
Hillsdale County receives a Mckinney-Vento Homeless grant, a $2.145 billion program aiding the homeless. The program requires a biannual Point-in-Time count, which catalogues the number of homeless in the county. This report is then submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Hillsdale County Housing Continuum collected the PIT count information in the Free Methodist lobby, and then participants were welcome to all services provided.
“It’s a group effort. We focus on housing, but these people need food, clothing, substance abuse help, information, and legal advice. They should be able to meet someone here who can help,” Vanlerberg said.