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Kim Winnegge, Published February 04 2009

Event connects homeless with help

John Dodge never had a crowd watch him get a haircut before, but by the time the scissors were put down, he sat relaxed in the barber’s chair, his eyes blissfully closed.

Dodge – a “more than less,” “couch-surfing” homeless man in the Fargo-Moorhead community – said he attended the annual Project Homeless Connect for several reasons, but the haircut was a nice touch.

“It felt great,” Dodge said. “I feel like a new person.

“Just coming here today makes you feel like a new person.”

The Project Homeless Connect event on Tuesday at the Fargo Civic Center linked individuals who are homeless or on the verge of being homeless with agencies in the community that help them.

For Greg Randgaard, a disability specialist from Cook, Minn., it was also about discovering new agencies to recommend.

“We’re all here to do the same thing, which is to provide service to the people who need it,” Randgaard said.

More than 30 agencies were present to help the hundreds of people who attended, said Bekah Krueger, executive director of the F-M Coalition for Homeless Persons.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response for people needing the services,” Krueger said. “It’s a good thing that they’re here, but it’s too bad that they have to be.”

Dodge agreed.

“It’s good that everything comes together like this,” he said.

Participants had access to services ranging from haircuts and housing advice to preventive dental care.

“Homelessness in the community is not seen as much of a problem, because we don’t have people on every street corner begging for change,” Krueger said, “but (homelessness is) still prevalent in the community.”

Social service and health providers were also on hand to provide counseling for mental illness, chemical dependencies, job training and disabilities issues.

The number of services brought Robert Woods to the event.

“They have this twice a year, and it’s fantastic for the people who need to come here,” the South Carolina native said. “As soon as I got in here, I met up with nine or 10 of my friends.”

But Woods worried about the rest of the homeless population.

“There are probably people who aren’t here that should be,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kim Winnegge at (701) 241-5524