An inaugural event to provide services to the homeless drew about 100 people Jan. 30, far exceeding the organizers’ expectations.
Called the “Community Connection,” the event was created by The Dalles Housing Solutions Coalition to not only reach the homeless, but those who can help the homeless.
The daylong event was held in The Dalles Senior Center basement, but the coalition is considering a different venue for its next event with extra space for the visitors to just hang out all day without having to sit in the middle of the venue, said coalition co-chair Britania Grajeda.
The event provided haircuts, hair washing, foot care, dog grooming, flu shots, hepatitis shots and health screenings, as well as services to get IDs. There were also agencies on hand to connect people with services including insurance and housing.
Attendees were given hygiene bags as well as winter clothing including jackets, hats, and socks. The event was catered by Big Herm’s Barbecue of Hood River and attendees also got a to-go bag with another meal in it.
Grajeda, who is the bi-lingual housing and shelter advocate for Haven against Domestic Violence, said event participants were thankful. “They were strutting around after their haircuts. It was really nice to see that.”
Grajeda said the coalition’s goal was to have at least five people attend the event. If they had that many, they felt they would have done “what we set out to do. And we ended up getting 100 people.”
The goal was to have people who have been marginalized feel welcome, she said.
The coalition wants the next event to not only take place in a larger venue, but to have a dental van and a job station.
The next venue needs to be easily accessible and downtown, she said.
Todd Mock, of Mephibosheth Outreach, said, “It was just a God thing. It was a miracle and people were recognizing that.” He said his organization has been working to get the word out about the event as it serves meals every other weekend at Community Meals.
He said the people who came to the event didn’t talk much, but some just hung out. “They are guys that don’t talk at all, they hung out all day, and it wasn’t just to stay warm. The overall feeling of the place was peace and calm. There were no outbursts, no one was angry. There was more than enough food. Even the workers, you could tell, they were so thankful to be there.”
The housing solutions coalition is made up of representatives from a number of local agencies. It formed about a year ago at the behest of city of The Dalles.
The Dalles Police Officer Chris Simonds helped four people get replacement birth certificates at the event, and he helped another four people the next day.
He also helps people get replacement IDs, which are necessary for getting jobs, benefits or housing. The city pays for the cost of the replacement documents, and Simonds drives them to the DMV to get replacement IDs.
Mock’s group was giving out sleeping bags and had to go buy more because they ran out. His group also donated winter coats, thanks to a $500 donation from a person who “felt God had put it on his heart to donate the money for jackets,” Mock said. The donor didn’t even know the event was coming, he said.
Even after buying more sleeping bags, he still ran out. “We could’ve handed out 80 of them. Everybody wanted one. There’s such a need.”
Mock’s group also secured the catering by Big Herm’s. The meal was tri tip, and leftovers were taken to the Lone Pine in-lieu site in The Dalles, a year-round Native American fishing site.
Mock said one of his goals for the event was to drum up support among local churches. It was a success: He said he got four invitations to speak at churches.
He said, “If you get out of the pew, if you get out of the comfort zone and you go out there and do this, you go, ‘Oh, this is what joy is.’”
He said joy in the biblical sense is self-sacrifice. It’s splitting up your sandwich and “giving someone else the larger part of the sandwich.”
Mock has gotten to know homeless people through his outreach program, which includes going to find the homeless where they live, and providing for them.
Mock said so many people stepped up to help at the event that they didn’t have room for them all.
Grajeda agreed, saying “there were a lot of people that were interested. We were like, ‘Ok, maybe next time.’”