Columbia's Project Homeless Connect provides food, haircuts

Thursday, July 31, 2014 | 6:41 p.m. CDT; updated 8:26 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 31, 2014
Project Homeless Connect provided residents in need with haircuts, backpacks filled with hygiene supplies, and transportation to the driver's license office Thursday.

COLUMBIA — "Mikey Mike" Misslin, who is homeless, sat at a round table Thursday, organizing and repacking his bags to include the Crest toothpaste, Famous Amos cookies and other modest supplies he had just received.

Before that, he got his hair cut and applied for a birth certificate, courtesy of Project Homeless Connect.

The sixth annual Project Homeless Connect provided food, clothes and backpacks containing personal hygiene supplies to people in need. Groups such as Love INC, MedZou Community Health Clinic, veterans organizations, housing services and the Daniel Boone Regional Library were stationed in the multipurpose room of the Missouri United Methodist Church to provide assistance and information about their free services.

"It's a way to help give people assistance and services to help get them off the streets," said Bill Cantin, city neighborhood communications coordinator, who was one of the event organizers. "If they don't want to get off the streets, it's a way to reach out and make life better for them."

Last year, the event drew about 100 people, Cantin said, and his estimate for attendance this year was more than 100. Close to noon, about 30 people meandered among the booths that offered information.

"They consolidate all the different agencies where it's easy for people to get to and take care of things," Misslin said.

Daniel Nuckolls, who came to check out the housing options available to him, said getting up and out is a big deal for people who need these services.

A few attendees picked through mounds of free pants, shirts and shorts. Others sat under black smocks, admiring their new hairstyles in hand mirrors.

Shay Whitley, a cosmetology student at Merrell University in Jefferson City, said this was her first year volunteering at the event and she loved it. By noon, Whitley had cut hair for six people, in whatever style they wanted.

"It makes me feel good to help out and see them excited and happy about a new look," Whitley said. "It helps so many people and raises awareness."

The project provided a shuttle from the church to the driver's license office so that those in need of a form of identification could get one. Cantin said 10 to 15 people took advantage of the service.

"What we want to do is get them the assistance they need," Cantin said.

He said that as of summer 2013, there were an estimated 439 people experiencing homelessness in Columbia and Boone County.

Cantin said Columbia citizens can best help the homeless by directing them to different agencies and raising awareness about homelessness.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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