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story.lead_photo.caption 2018 FILE: Michelle Kelsey, right, along with her son Jared Maute and daughter-in-law Dannielle Maute, accept prepackaged food boxes in October 2018 from Cristal Backer as they visited booths in the First Christian Church gymnasium. Backer is the regional coordinator of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, one of the participants in Friday's fourth annual Project Homeless Connect. A number of Jefferson City churches along with employment and social services agencies, veterans' support groups and health services combined to offer services for area people facing homelessness. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

William Bates really needed only three things, he said Friday while sitting outside the entrance to First Christian Church in downtown Jefferson City.

"I'm picking up food and clothes and, hopefully, a place to stay," he said.

Bates, a California man who is staying with a friend in Jefferson City, was one of hundreds of people struggling with permanent housing who gathered to receive assistance during the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect.

The annual program is a community collaboration among social service providers, local churches, state agencies and community volunteers. It is intended to serve as a single access point for individuals and families experiencing homelessness to receive assistance, resources and services.

And it is intended to be a "one-stop shop" for people to get assistance with a wide range of needs, media coordinator Amy Rogers said.

Project Homeless Connect is held every year on East Capitol Avenue at First United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church and First Christian Church. About 200 people sought services during last year's event, Rogers said, and numbers were similar this year.

People attending the event might find access to shelter or housing, counseling, food and clothing donations, identification cards, medical checkups and health screenings, mental health screenings, substance abuse screenings, and career counseling and placement.

Organizers hope to provide as many services as possible to people in the community who are experiencing homelessness or are at immediate risk of being homeless.

"People will check in and then go through their services," Rogers said. "They receive a 'passport' that lists what services they are looking for."

The recipients are paired with a volunteer "guide," who helps them find the service providers they need — scattered throughout the three churches.

As each need is addressed, it is checked off the passport, which is turned in at the end of the day. The passports act as a record, showing what services were provided.

Staff members have to overcome new challenges every year, Rogers said. They had to deal with recent changes to requirements for state identifications. People who hoped to get their birth certificates at the event were assigned vouchers that verified they'd been to the project. The vouchers could be used at the Common Ground Community Building to pursue the document.

"Every year it seems like there's something new — good or challenging," she said. "We face the challenges head-on."

An army of volunteers worked to assure their clients received the resources and services they needed.

Again this year, dental services were among the most immediate needs for some clients. New this year was the Community Health Center of Central Missouri's recreational vehicle — a mobile dental office that contains an intake area, three dentists' chairs and X-ray machines. The vehicle sat on a closed-off section of Capitol Avenue with other health-screening vans.

Patients, like Robert Williams, went out to the vans to receive treatment.

Mouth pains had plagued Williams for weeks.

"I wasn't able to sleep much," he said, speaking out of the left side of his mouth as he held an ice pack over the right side of his jaw. "It was waking me up out of my sleep."

Williams said he hadn't seen a dentist in about two years, since his wife left her job. A dentist in the health center vehicle, he said, had to pull an infected wisdom tooth and another tooth alongside it.

The project was able to resolve other needs people had, as well.

John Gill, a 70-year-old Jefferson City man who said he has experienced different levels of homelessness, which has stabilized, had a couple of priorities on his list. At the top was getting new glasses. He also received laundry service.

Health screenings were available in First Baptist Church. Representatives from more than 20 organizations were on hand to offer information in the gymnasium at First Christian Church, which also housed a clothing donation room.

Dozens of people waited for haircuts in a large room in the lowest level of the Methodist church.

Arlene Johnson, 61, of Detroit, was among them. She said she had cut her hair herself, but wanted somebody to "even up" her buzz cut along the back of her neck. Six hairdressers worked continuously to keep up with demand.

Even though she's been in Jefferson City about four years, Johnson said she hadn't known about the project until Thursday.

"This is all right," Johnson said. "It's good."

Mary Major waited with a client while the client's grandchildren received haircuts. Major, who works as a family support provider at Pathways, was a guide for the day.

"The resources she needs are all in one place. Housing is at the top of her list," Major said of her client. "All people need some help."

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