To be counted: Silverton Homeless Connect event reaches out

February 2018 Posted in Community

Volunteer Karolle Hughes engages with an attendee at Silverton Homeless Connect. Peggy Savage

By Peggy Savage

For years, homeless advocate Karolle Hughes has set aside Jan. 31 as a day to count homeless residents in the rural areas around Silverton. It’s called a one-day point-in-time count, part of a nationwide effort to find out how many people in the area are experiencing homelessness.

“When you get into the rural communities, the homeless are invisible,” she said. “In the larger cities, you can see the homeless everywhere, but you don’t in small towns.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that communities receiving funding from a homeless assistance grant conduct the annual count. Hughes refers to it as a “thumbnail sketch of the homeless in
our county.”

This year, however, she decided to take the effort to a whole new level. Instead of sending out volunteers to find and survey the homeless, Hughes invited homeless people in for a day of hospitality at a new event called Silverton Homeless Connect. She asked the community to help, and the community responded.

“I’ve done point-in-time counts consistently throughout all the rural towns in the area,” Hughes said. “But this year, I decided to do a ‘field of dreams’ thing. Build and they will come.”

And people did come. Homeless residents were greeted by volunteers offering hot breakfast, lunch and friendship at Trinity Lutheran Church. People selected items they needed from a vast supply of clothing, shoes, tents, sleeping bags and personal services. At the same time, the event provided an opportunity for community members to meet and talk with those dealing with homelessness.

“This event is still a point-in-time count, but we wanted to make it special for them,” Hughes said. “I just wanted to offer a gift, and this keeps us from stepping into their homes.”

Hughes said holding the event in conjunction with the point-in-time count helps bring the problem of homelessness to the attention of community members.

“We need to show homelessness is not just in the big cities,” she said. “Because it’s everywhere, and people need to be aware it’s in rural communities as well. Everyone needs to open their eyes and do what you can to help. If you see someone homeless, don’t turn away.”

Somewhere between 25 or 30 guests arrived during the day, and of that number, Hughes said the official homeless count came to 14.

“But this was more homeless than we’ve ever gotten in the past,” she said. “And being this was our first year, the first person to walk through the door, I considered the event a success.”

Some of the guests were people at risk of being homeless and some, Hughes said, were homeless residents who simply did not want to participate in the point-in-time survey.

Carissa, a young homeless woman who did participate, said she couldn’t begin to adequately say how much she appreciates the kindness she received from people at the event. “It doesn’t come very often, so when people do help us like this, it feels good,” she said.

Working with Hughes was Lori McLaughlin and a crew of volunteers.

“We’ve spent a lot of hours in training, learning how to do things,” McLaughlin said. “People have been so generous. You don’t know, especially for the first year, what kind of success an event like this will have. It’s like dancing in the dark. We offered training for volunteers, and they came through. They’ve been fabulous.”

Hughes also gave recognition to those in the community who provided services and resources for the event.

“This community has been very generous,” she said. “Kudos to One Thousand Soles. They donated 50 pairs of refurbished shoes. Food Share gave us 233 pounds of food, and the community has been bringing in food and clothing.
I love Silverton, and the people here have been amazing.

“This year was a learning experience,” she said. “So, now I have more ideas for how to do this next year. The biggest thing we learned was how to be of service. Trinity Lutheran provided space for the event. Durham Bus Barn donated a bus to go around to surrounding communities and pick up people. We had a nurse and a dental hygienist. We had someone who provided haircuts, and some of the homeless had pets. They were given a certificate to take to Silver Creek Animal Clinic for whatever free pet care might be needed. And, of course, we had all our volunteers.”

Ferren Taylor is one of those volunteers.

“We had a lot of local people here in training,” Taylor said. “We heard about this event at my church, and about eight or 10 of us are here volunteering today. And we want to keep giving on an ongoing basis, because ultimately, we are all brothers and sisters.”

Cambridge Allen is a hairdresser in the community who volunteered to cut people’s hair, and Dona Mossman was one of many who served hot food.

“I’m happy we’ve brought in as many people as we have today,” Mossman said while packing a to-go bag of food for a homeless man. “I read about this event in the newspaper, and I decided it would be great to get involved.”

Molly Ainsley and Cindy Gyurgyik were two of those cooking the meals, offering eggs to-order and hash browns and for lunch, pasta.

“The beauty of this event is that it indicates a little more trust between the people in the community and the people living in the rough,” Ainsley said.

Wally Gustav, an interim pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, said the congregation is committed to helping people in need, whether giving food or helping with an event like this. “We want to reach out and share our love and care with people,” he said.

Although this was the first, experimental year for Silverton Homeless Connect, Hughes said it won’t be the last.

“I’ve gotten great feedback, and everyone wants to do it again next year,” she said. “I felt so blessed by the outpouring that came from our community. It was
just amazing.”

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