Hundreds of Billings’ homeless and people at risk of homelessness got the opportunity Friday to learn about services to give them a hand and to get signed up.
Now in its eighth year and called Billings Community Connect — it was dubbed Project Homeless Connect until last year — the event at the Al Bedoo Shrine Auditorium brought together more than 50 businesses, services and organizations that help the homeless or near-homeless as a sort of catch-all stop for the people who need them.
“It’s about having one place where people can come and access all the resources they need in a safe, secure environment,” said Kalyn Yasutake, an AmeriCorps Vista who helped out at the event. “It’s not just for the homeless. There’s a lot of people in this community that live paycheck to paycheck and need this, too.”
Event organizers expected 500 people from the Billings area to walk through the Shrine’s doors for the event by the time it ended at 4 p.m.
When the doors opened at 9 a.m., dozens of people were already lined up outside. After filling out a short point-in-time survey to track homelessness in Billings, they walked into a Shrine gym filled with tables from groups offering everything from veterans services to housing aid, social, health, and job service programs and free clothing and a quick meal.
“It gives people the ability to have the resources that are available, that they didn’t know were here until they stepped onto the floor,” said Ted Oliver, who volunteered at the event.
Phyllis Bromgard, of Laurel, helped set up on Thursday in the Shrine’s basement, which featured a free breakfast and a store on Friday.
She said that after working downstairs and having helped in Laurel — she helps out with Community Hope, volunteers through RSVP and hands out quilts to kids in need — she wanted to see what the services upstairs had to offer.
“I like to help people in my own way,” she said.
After checking out at least six of the services upstairs, people could go to the basement store. Each person received a plastic bag and the opportunity take what they needed from tables and racks stuffed with clothing, undergarments, hats, coats and gloves.
It also offered bike repair services, haircuts, massages and a community art area.
The paintings created will be auctioned off and the proceeds given to several of the organizations on hand for the day.
Through the point-in-time survey, organizers and local officials also use the event to get a better idea of the city’s homeless or near-homeless population, their needs and other issues on an annual basis, said Lynda Woods, program coordinator with the city’s Community Development division.
“Every year it grows,” Yasutake said. “This event, it keeps building with the community. There’s always people in this community that need help.”