Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Tuesday, 09 April 2013 09:15
A new program has been proposed in Wood County to break down barriers for people who are homeless or on the verge of losing their homes.
Instead of services being offered all over the county, Project Homeless Connect would bring all the services to one location for one day.
The program has been tried in many cities across the nation, but this would be the first time it would be set up in Bowling Green.
Organizers want to reach out to the hidden homeless in Wood County - those forced to crowd in with family members, "couch surf" at friends' homes, or those living in vehicles.
"For many the safety net with family has worn thin," said Jennifer Kephart, who is organizing the Project Homeless Connect event. "There are individuals sleeping in cars."
Just because people aren't sleeping on park benches or on the streets, doesn't mean that homelessness doesn't exist in Wood County, she said. "That's where there's a misconception," she said.
"This is the trial run," Don Neifer, of the Home Aid Coalition, said of the Project Homeless Connect program.
"Hopefully the community will realize we have a problem. They kind of have blinders on now."
If approved by the Wood County Home Aid Coalition, the service providers will all be brought together on Oct. 16 at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Bowling Green.
Kephart, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Wood County, has been involved with the project in the Akron area.
"It's just amazing," she said.
While Wood County has several services for people in need, they are spread over a large geographic area.
"How do you get from there to here when you've spent your last $5 to get there," Kephart said.
The Project Homeless Connect will bring several services to one location.
Offering services that day will be groups such as the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Cocoon Shelter, plus governmental offices such as Job and Family Services, and the Wood County Health Department.
Businesses will also be asked to get involved to offer free haircuts, bike and car repairs, legal services, clothing, hot meals and food to take home.
Health professionals will be asked to provide such services as foot care, dental care, immunizations, mammograms, mental health care, and pet care.
"Individuals in poverty are remaining in poverty because things are so complicated," Kephart said. "The solutions really start to come together," if all the service providers are available in one place.
"The goal is to not just leave people with a piece of paper," but actually provide services, she said. "We're providing a situation where there's real help."
Anyone who attends will be welcome to assistance, Kephart said.
"No questions will be asked about their circumstances," she said. "We want individuals in the community to feel no shame. All are welcome."
In addition to looking for volunteer services providers, the organizers are also looking for people to volunteer to chaperone participants to make sure they get all the services they need.
It is unknown how many people will seek help at the event, with 50 to 200 possibly attending, according to organizers. "One soul is a success story," Kephart said.
The program will be discussed further at the next Home Aid meeting, April 16 at 3 p.m., at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 315 S. College Ave., Bowling Green.