Polk Connect zeroes in on homeless

Event switches focus from ‘at risk’ to aiding people who are unsheltered now

The Polk County Homeless Connect event will only focus on helping those who are homeless.

Photo by Lukas Eggen
The Polk County Homeless Connect event will only focus on helping those who are homeless.

DALLAS — The Polk County Homeless Connect is sharpening its focus for the event in 2018.

Previously, the event brought together resources to help individuals and families who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Heather Wright, the Living Hope City Church pastor with the Dallas Ministerial Association, an event sponsor, said the emphasis at the Jan. 31, 2018, event will be helping unsheltered adults.

“We’re taking it back to what we had originally dreamt it for, which is to help homeless people with resources and give them a vacation day,” Wright said. “We have been serving a large amount of guests who have not been homeless.”

Wright said the connect coincides each year with the annual “point-in-time count,” which attempts to account for all people who are homeless in Polk County and the U.S.

That count contributes to securing grants and resources to help homeless people.

Wright said most of the people participating in the connect event did not qualify as homeless under the count’s definition.

“Our statistics from last year and previous years have not been good on actually surveying people that (are homeless),” Wright said. “We have reason to believe that sometimes, when you open it up and make it a family environment, it isn’t as friendly for the unsheltered homeless.”

In 2018, event organizers want to change that.

The connect will be held at Valley Life Center from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and will offer a free meal, clothing, and resources to help get people off the streets.

Wright said all those who complete the point-in-time count survey will receive either a tent or a sleeping bag, even those who are surveyed in homeless camps and don’t attend.

Event sponsors so far, are: City Vibe West Salem, Polk County, Dallas Ministerial Association, Ace Hardware in West Salem, Polk County Free Clinic, Salem Leadership Foundation, Salt Creek Baptist Church and Marion-Polk Foodshare.

Wright said organizers are seeking donations of tents and sleeping bags, as well as volunteers to be part of mobile teams completing surveys in Falls City, Grand Ronde, Monmouth, Independence and West Salem. Volunteers are needed for the event, as well.

Polk Connect will still offer bike repair, pet care, haircuts, medical care, dental care and connections with a yet-to-be determined list of agencies offering assistance.

“We anticipate fewer guests but, service on a grander scale for the individual,” Wright said.

She said no one will be turned away, but services and clothing donations are suited toward homeless adults.

“We are aware that there are homeless children, but they’re being counted through the school districts. Our practice is to not get children away from school during school hours,” Wright said.

She also has heard and understands the concerns of people at risk of homelessness who have been helped at the event in previous years.

“I’m acutely aware that by limiting our guest list that there are people who feel their needs aren’t being adequately met,” she said.

Wright said Dallas and other communities host events — particularly back-to-school events like Dallas Family Night Out — that better serve families. Also, the Polk Resource Center, located in the Academy Building in Dallas, is open five days a week to serve individual and families who are struggling with basic needs.

“I’m really confident and really grateful for the resource center. I’ve been promoting that they’re there, that they are available, and that they have a connection to food, to furniture, and to clothing on a regular basis — and all the agencies that would be represented,” she said. “Not all community, especially of our size, have something that functions as well as the resource center does.”

Wright said her hope for the 2018 event is to get accurate information on the number of homeless people in the county — and help them find solutions their unique situations.

“We were only able to survey 102 (unsheltered) homeless last year, and we know that number is way, way low,” she said. “Our goal is to do a better job with the survey, and for those who are surveyed, that we make sure they are invited to a relief day.”

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