Editorial: Home sweet home... almost
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel-Tribune Editor   
Thursday, 10 October 2013 11:27
Jan Larson McLaughlin
A local organization is taking a very visible step to combat an invisible problem here in Wood County.
For more than 20 years, kind-hearted volunteers with Wood County HomeAid have been meeting to try to determine the number of local homeless and how they could best be helped.
But while they were steeped with good intentions, they were shy of funding. And when they did secure grant funding to house local homeless, the required focus of the funds would often change - leaving the organization regrouping to try to serve those with no real address, no stability and no voice in the community.
The organization also suffered because many questioned the need for their efforts. Homelessness in Wood County does not look like homelessness in kinder climates. There are no people camping out on park benches, and few huddled over sidewalk heat vents.
Homelessness here is much more hidden. They can be found "couch surfing" between family and friends. A few find shelter in sympathetic churches. And some are getting by in abandoned houses where utilities have been disconnected.
But putting a number on the problem has been difficult. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office requires that homeless counts be conducted during the last week of January each year - guaranteeing that no count in Northwest Ohio is likely to find people sleeping outside in the dead of winter. However, a count in 2011 identified 68 homeless people in Wood County on that particular day. Of those, 35 were children.
This past January, as the temperatures dipped to single digits, a local family living in an unheated camper finally asked for help from the Salvation Army in Bowling Green. The best the organization could offer the mother and her two daughters was information on homeless shelters in Toledo and Findlay.
Undaunted, the HomeAid group has continued to reach out to homeless by working quietly, behind the scenes. But next week, the volunteers are coming out from behind the scenes - and are asking local homeless to do the same.
On Wednesday, the first Project Homeless Connect will be held in Bowling Green. The group has asked local governmental services and businesses to help them prevent people from losing their residences, or put them back on track to find a secure place to call home.
The project will offer several services that most take for granted. There will be free haircuts, help writing resumes, bike and car repairs, legal services, clothing, hot meals and food to take home. Health professionals will provide foot care, dental care, immunizations, mammograms, mental health care and pet care.
Agencies such as Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Cocoon Shelter, Job and Family Services, and the Wood County Health Department will be on hand to help.
"No questions will be asked about their circumstances," Jennifer Kephart, organizer of the event, said earlier this year. "We want individuals in the community to feel no shame."
Project Homeless Connect will be Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 315 S. College Ave.

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