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A heads-up for homeless.

Byline: Jack Moran The Register-Guard

Timothy Huff left the Lane Events Center on Thursday with his spirits raised and his ears lowered.

Brimming with optimism, the 47-year-old Eugene man credited his mood change to Project Homeless Connect, a one-day event that gave free haircuts, dental exams, legal advice and much more to about 1,000 homeless and vulnerable community members.

About 150 local businesses and public and private agencies teamed up for the unprecedented effort at the fairgrounds.

Huff's wife visited a dentist while he sat down for a long-overdue haircut, courtesy of Supercuts. Afterward, the couple talked to local housing agency representatives, who helped them try to find shelter. They have been on the streets since September, when they were evicted from an apartment after failing to pay rent.

"Ever since then, we've basically felt like forgotten people," Timothy Huff said. "But this has showed us that we really haven't been forgotten."

The idea behind Project Homeless Connect is to temporarily bring an array of services for the homeless under one roof in hopes of creating lasting solutions for people who have trouble finding a safe, secure place to live.

A deeper message organizers wanted to convey to the homeless was that others in the community care about their struggles, event coordinator Kate Barkley said.

"We're trying to provide an environment of hospitality and really welcome the homeless citizens of this community," Barkley said. "A lot of people are going without critical services because they have to traipse around town to find the help they need. By putting all of these services in one place, we can do a better job and do it for more people."

The list of offerings at Thursday's event was long. In addition to free food, haircuts, medical care and legal help, counselors were on hand to help the homeless ward against substance abuse and domestic violence. Social service workers helped people sort out issues relating to jobs, public assistance and housing.

The Eugene event was modeled after a program that started in San Francisco in 2004 and has spread to several dozen cities around the United States.

Local organizers say the effort was prompted in part by the fact that on any given night, nearly 1,300 people in Lane County are homeless or living in temporary shelters. More than 6,000 homeless people received services in the county in 2006, they said.

Gailene Franklin, 25, said she learned of the Project Homeless Connect event from workers at Catholic Community Services, which offers programs for the needy.

A Washington state native, Franklin has been living in a car with her 21-year-old boyfriend, Steven Frost, since they moved to Eugene last month.

The couple arrived at Thursday's gathering an hour before the doors opened, eager to find agencies able to help them start a new life in Lane County.

"We love it here in Eugene, and we're just trying to stay positive about things," Franklin said. "I've never seen anything like this before. There's so much hope here for people. It's a beautiful thing to be part of."

Organizers said it's not clear yet whether they'll try to repeat the event.
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 9, 2007
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