Event to refocus on homelessness

When the organizers of the Polk County Homeless Connect event announced they had decided to refocus on those who are already homeless — away from also aiding those who are considered “at risk” of homelessness — it is understanding they would get some push back from those hurting in our communities. But they are right.

We already have facilities and organizations to help those who are on the verge of becoming homeless — from a plethora of resources, five days a week, at the Dallas Academy Building, to food banks, clothes closets and school districts.

We know it is easier — and less expensive — to keep a family in its home than to find a home for them after they have become homeless. We hope the word will spread about what the county already offers for all who struggle.

What we don’t have are facilities and organizations to easily reach those who are already displaced.

The face of those who are homeless is difficult to define. People who are homeless may not look like the “average” person on the street you would see in movies or downtown Salem. Part of the event is to get a semi-accurate head count of those who are homeless in Polk County.

Make no mistake, we have homeless in Polk County, and not just in West Salem. They may not live under the Lyle Street Bridge, but they are camping in cars, in tents, in run-down trailers unfit for rats. Maybe they’re taking advantage of a friend’s generosity and sleeping on a couch until that generosity runs out, then they go to another couch.

Reaching the “unsheltered homeless” is not an easy task.

The idea to give them a “vacation” day, where they can come to an event and receive services — free of judgements — from a hair cut to pet treatments to getting a bike fixed or cavity filled is huge, perhaps more than we’ll really know.

It’s going to change the whole feel of the Connect event. Only time will tell if it was successful in reaching the “unsheltered homeless,” as is the goal.

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