By Roger McKinney
Joplin’s homeless residents seeking services turned out Wednesday at Memorial Hall for Project Homeless Connect.
It was the second event this year to bring services under one roof for one-stop shopping for the homeless population. The first was in February at the Joplin Salvation Army. The Homeless Coalition of the Jasper and Newton County Area organized both events.
A man who said he wanted to be called Heart, when asked what he was seeking at the event, said: “A way out of homelessness, I guess.”
The man said he lost his job in July 2008, and since then has been living in his car, in shelters and with friends. He said he has no health insurance, so he was grateful for the blood pressure check offered by St. John’s Regional Medical Center.
Carol Thomas is chairwoman of the Homeless Coalition. She said that without the event, people would have to travel all over town to try to obtain assistance. That is nearly impossible for those without transportation, she said.
She said the Economic Security Corp. was assisting people with identification cards and birth certificates. The Social Security Administration was helping people obtain Social Security cards. Without those items, Thomas said, people can’t get jobs.
“Those are some of the barriers that the homeless face,” she said.
Dulise Dean, who said she is known in the homeless community as Mama Harley, was at the event with a man known on the streets as Turtle and her two dogs. Dean said she got the name Mama Harley because she once owned a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and she acts as everyone’s mother among the homeless.
Dean said she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and needs to be on oxygen, but she has no health insurance.
“I really need a place to live,” she said. “I’m really just here for a meal today.”
Dean, 54, said she can’t read, so she doesn’t think she is employable.
“Ain’t it the craps?” Turtle said. “The bankers make away with millions, and we’re homeless.”
Charles Hilker, 52, said he is staying at the City of Refuge, a shelter on the outskirts of town. He said he worked at a poultry processing plant, then was employed at a Wal-Mart for a short time. He said he has been unemployed since 2005. He said he thinks nearly anyone could end up in his situation.
“There are people out there who are one step away from homelessness,” Hilker said.
Hilker said he hoped to identify programs that would help him improve his skills and get a job.
Crystal Shoemate, manager of A.O. Employment Services, said transportation is a big problem for homeless people seeking jobs. She said the Sunshine Lamp Trolley and taxis are a partial solution, but that it’s difficult to keep a job without a car.
“We work with people with disabilities to find employment, additional training and with housing needs,” Shoemate said. She said the business also refers clients to other agencies that can assist them.
Sandy Blackford and Autumn Deer, paralegals, were staffing a booth for Legal Aid of Western Missouri. The agency provides legal services in civil cases for people who meet income guidelines. It also helps with housing services. They said many of those attending had stopped by to pick up brochures and ask questions. They said many who are homeless don’t realize they have access to a lawyer’s services.
Coweta Ogle, a registered nurse with St. John’s Regional Medical Center, said several people had stopped to get their blood pressure and bone density checked. Ogle said most of those who visited have not been to a doctor recently, and in some cases, in years.
Steve Nicole, veterans’ representative with the Missouri Division of Workforce Development, was among those staffing an information booth that also included the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said the purpose was to help homeless veterans with medical benefits and to help them overcome barriers in finding jobs.
“We get them hooked up,” Nicole said. “That’s why we’re here. Most of the time, people just don’t know what we offer. It’s mostly an education process.”
David Crossley, housing coordinator for the Joplin Salvation Army, said he was pleased with the turnout in the first hour or so of the event. He said the Homeless Coalition plans to continue to do at least two Project Homeless Connect events each year.
“I think we’re off to a good start,” Crossley said. “I’m tickled to death.”
Some other of the agencies represented at Wednesday’s Project Homeless Connect event were Children’s Haven, Souls Harbor, Lafayette House, House Inc. and Vocational Rehabilitation.
By Roger McKinney
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