March 6, 2009 - 3:00 PM
Today I got the privilege to volunteer at Project Homeless Connect. Project Homeless Connect is an annual event held here in Eugene. It takes place at the Lane County Fairgrounds and is an entire day devoted to helping the homeless people living in Lane County. The event brings all sorts of needed services to one central location, so that it is easier for homeless individuals to get the help that they need. The event provided food, dental services, medical services, veterans' information, haircuts, clothing, sleeping bags, bus vouchers, face painting for the kids, and much, much more.
The event, to me, was very moving is many different ways. First of all, it had an incredible impact on me to see all of the homeless individuals from Lane County concentrated in one place. I never realized how many people in our community were truly in need. Volunteers who had worked previous years also mentioned how there were so many more people this year than in the past. In hard economic times like these, too many people find themselves on the verge of losing everything.
I feel as though people profile the homeless as male drug addicts who stand shadily on street corners with signs. If there was one thing this event proved, it was that this is simply not the case. The face of homelessness comes in all forms. There were women with tiny babies there. There were old couples that had lost everything in a fire. There was a woman who had been laid off and couldn't find anything else. One of the most intense moments for me was looking into the eyes of a twenty-year-old boy, my age, who had spent the previous night sleeping in a car. He had brightness in his eyes of hope and aspiration, but for whatever reason, drew an unlucky card in life. Homelessness could be any one of us. That is why it is so important that we continue events like these and always help each other out.
I was also touched by how incredibly grateful each and every person at that event was. I was doing the check out process, where we helped homeless individuals give us feedback on the events, ways we could improve, and what services they actually took advantage of while there. Whenever I got to the question on the survey that asked, "How helpful was this event to you?" I got the most heartfelt answers. People were so grateful for this help and to be around hundreds of volunteers who truly cared. They said that they could not thank us enough. They told us, "God, bless you." They urged us to keep this event up. People would tell me their stories about how they got to this point in their lives. I loved hearing the stories of different veterans. Others would crack jokes with me and I could see how this event had lifted their spirits, if just for one day. The gratitude in the air was inspiring.
Events like Project Homeless Connect are so important to communities. A community is only as strong as its people and to be able to see so many volunteers reaching out a hand to those in need shows the strength and potential of our community in Eugene. These are hard financial times and for some people, they are even harder. I urge anyone who can afford to make a donation to one of the many places that help keep communities strong: