A crowd fills the Medford Armory Friday during the Project Homeless Connect Event. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

Making Lives A Little Bit Better

Patricia Roach waited in line Friday morning at the Medford Armory, hoping to receive dental care at the one-day Project Community Connect event set up to help the homeless.

The 51-year-old has struggled to find housing after run-ins with the law and drug problems.

Talking with her mouth partially closed, Roach said she has only four bottom teeth. She hoped she could get dentures from the mobile dental clinic parked outside the building.

"I know I need them for employment," Roach said. "I need to get them fixed."

Roach was one of hundreds of homeless and low-income people who came to the fourth annual Project Community Connect. Coordinated by the Jackson County Community Services Consortium Homeless Task Force, the seven-hour event provided the homeless with clothes, food, haircuts, and dental and medical services.

It also provided applications and information for food stamps, Social Security, affordable housing and benefits for veterans.

More than 40 organizations participated in the event, including La Clinica and Easter Seals Oregon, according to Ed Angeletti, co-chairman of the homeless task force and planning director of ACCESS, a nonprofit organization best known for providing food to those in need and operating local food pantries.

ACCESS is one of the event's largest sponsors and supplied dozens of donated socks, sweatshirts, underwear and jackets. Within an hour, the organization ran out of clothing to give away.

For many of those at the event, drug addictions and criminal backgrounds have prevented them from getting jobs and finding housing.

Many also were veterans, including 61-year-old Bruce Harmon. The Vietnam veteran, who has been homeless since January, said he came to Friday's event hoping to get care for post-traumatic stress disorder so he could start working again and find a place to live.

About 35 to 40 percent of the homeless in Jackson County suffer from mental illness, according to a city of Medford report. About 30 percent have chronic substance abuse problems.

Organizations across Jackson County have worked to improve access to health care and housing for the homeless in recent years, Angeletti said. In 2009, local groups adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness, joining more than 300 cities and counties in the United States that also have 10-year plans.

The Housing Authority of Jackson County developed more than 100 affordable housing units in Medford and Ashland in 2011, according to a Jackson County Homeless Task Force report. The Salvation Army also opened 12 family transition units.

"There's a lot of activity going on," Angeletti said.

The activity is needed. According to numbers from the task force, the number of homeless people in Jackson County increased by 17 percent from 2009 to 2011.

"Whether or not the homeless population has gotten better," Angeletti said. "The collaboration efforts have."

That collaboration, he said, made Project Community Connect possible. All of the organizations that participated in the event donated cash to purchase 800 chicken breasts, 32 pounds of cookie dough and several buckets full of fresh fruit and vegetables from local businesses, Angeletti said. The Oregon Homeless Pet Project provided veterinary care for a couple dozen dogs, while stylists from Salon Muse provided haircuts.

The salon was a popular spot for many of the homeless, including 29-year-old Buddy Hardin. Hardin, who has been homeless for five months, wanted to clean up before his first day at work.

"I just got a job at Taco Bell," Hardin said, smiling.

He hopes he'll earn enough money to find a place to stay.

Reach University of Oregon reporting intern Josephine Woolington at 541-776-4368.

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