Event connects homeless with services

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A walk-in Project Homeless Connect event at the Samaritan House Administrative Center on Thursday and Friday will have about 20 Kalispell dentists offering free dental care.

But that’s just part of the two-day event organized by volunteers over the last six months.

Other people will be there offering free haircuts, food bags, toiletries, clothing for children and adults, pet services and information on how to access a wide variety of other local community and government support services.

Those include job placement services, legal and financial counseling, housing assistance programs, local shelters and community kitchens and applications for things like photo IDs, veteran services, Medicaid and food stamps.

Even a free hot lunch will be offered to everyone who shows up.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Maya Negron, a senior at the University of Montana who is majoring in social work and helping to coordinate the event.

“If you’re homeless or on the verge of being homeless, you can come have access to all of these services in one place.”

It’s the third Project Homeless Connect event in Kalispell in three years.

As many as 25 organizations are involved, said Chris Krager, director of the Samaritan House.

“We’re hoping to serve as many as 500 people the first day and 200 to 300 the second day,” Krager said.

It’s the second Project Homeless Connect event in Kalispell to include a dental clinic. At last year’s event, dental volunteers cared for 153 people. That number is expected to climb to as many as 200 this year.

Four portable dental chairs and even a portable X-ray machine are being brought in, said Ellen Missert, a Bozeman-based volunteer with AmeriCorps Vista who is helping coordinate things.

“It’s homeless or under-served, so there’s not any requirement that you’re homeless ... The definition of homeless is that you have no established home, so it’s a bigger population than you may think,” Missert said.

Dr. David Keim is one of the Kalispell dentists working to provide free dental care at this year’s Project Homeless Care event. Dental hygiene students from Great Falls also will help.

Some dentists will be set up to screen people and do basic cleanings at the Samaritan House. Others will work out of Keim’s office or their own offices to treat patients sent to them and provide same-day care.

 “It’s a great opportunity for us,” Keim said of the event. “Dentists are always looking for volunteer opportunities, but with something like Project Homeless Connect, we can have a lot of impact.”

Transportation will be available for people who need it to get to one of those other offices.

Dental care will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

According to the Samaritan House, Project Homeless Connect is an international movement to end homelessness, replicated in more than 200 cities. The goal is to eliminate barriers that keep homeless people from getting access to aid.

Kalispell’s Project Homeless Connect event runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Samaritan House Administrative Center, 1110 Second St. W.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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