COLUMBIA — More than 100 homeless people enjoyed cool air and free food in Columbia on Wednesday.
The Project Homeless Connect event provided free lunch and community services to the homeless at the Silverthorne Arena at Stephens College. More than 40 service providers offered haircuts, housing counseling, medical services, child care services and clothing.
Project Homeless Connect organizes the annual event, now in its fourth year. The project is designed to provide assistance and services and generate public awareness.
Last year, the event attracted 138 people, and about $15,000 in goods and services was provided. The number of this year's attendance is estimated to be higher than last year, said Gary Stoner, president of Project Homeless Connect.
Stoner said he expects at least 15 more customers attended the event this year. It is hard to estimate, he said, because the heat will either encourage more people to come to the indoors event, or the heat might prevent people from walking to the college.
Eric Jensen got a free haircut and selected some clothing, all publicly donated, for himself.
Jensen then walked to the transportation service booth to find out if he could get a ride back to his camp in the woods where he lives. He thought it was a good idea to come to the event after two men who came to his camp told him about it.
More than 30 volunteers contributed their time at the event.
Maggie Fainter, one of seven volunteers with Merrell University, helped Jensen with his haircut.
"I had 10 customers," Fainter said as she started to cut the next customer's hair. "Sometimes it is just hard for people to have extra money to get their hair cut. I think the event is a good cause."
The haircut booth had about 75 customers Wednesday, said Scott Sharp, director of admissions at Merrell University.
"We have been doing this since the very first year," he said.
Glen Vaughn came to the event to find a way to quit drinking and smoking.
He talked to doctors of MedZou at the event, which is a student-operated health clinic that provides free care.
Vaughn received a prescription from Ryan Neff, the MedZou director and a second-year MU medical student. He also made an appointment for further free treatment.
"There are no fans and no electricity in my camp," Vaughn said. "I am burned up everyday."
More than 10 patients came to MedZou for free medical services. Not a lot of patients asked for help with heat-related illnesses, but many of them were sunburned.
Vaughn left the event with a bag of food, a blanket and other free supplies.
Joan Crouch, a volunteer from Columbia Seventh-day Adventist Church, worked at the last station before customers left. She gave out food, water and hygiene supplies for people to take with them.
“I love doing this," Crouch said. "Everybody is so grateful.”
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