A first of its kind event took place last week that gave La Grande’s homeless population some much needed supplies to get them through the season.

Community Connection of Northeast Oregon hosted an event at the Riveria Activity Center to bring in those who identify as homeless to get an accurate count of how many people are in this situation in Union County and to provide assistance from local resources.

Community Connection Assistant Director Jeff Hensley was there to greet people at the entrance of the Activity Center. He said that official tallies won’t be in for several more weeks, but within a couple of hours of the event starting he had seen nearly 15 people come through.

“Part of the formula (for the count) is to give us funding for helping the homeless,” Hensley said. “This is the first event we’ve held. They can come here and get resources and more information about what’s available to them.”

Local organizations brought in donated clothes, tents, sleeping bags, shoes and much more for the participants to take for free.

“The public is very giving,” said Rochelle Hamilton, executive assistant for Community Connection. “The Oregon Food Bank donated wool blankets and food.”

There were also chili, cinnamon rolls and hot drinks for those who were hungry.

The participants were asked to complete a form sharing information about their situation, but otherwise the focus of the free event was to provide some much needed assistance.

“This is great,” Hensley said. “We not only have the agencies to help, but we are able to provide sleeping bags, tents and warm clothing that they need.”

He said the event was part of a statewide effort to get an accurate count of the homeless population.

“It’s only one day a year, but I hope it will help,” he said.

One of the ways Hensley hopes the event will benefit the population is through networking.

“They all seem to know each other,” he said. “If one person comes to the event, then they can pass along the information about resources.”

Among the resources were the Department of Human Services, which can provide instant assistance obtaining food stamps; the Northeast Oregon Network, which can help with applying for the Oregon Health Plan; WorkSource Oregon, with employment help; plus Grande Ronde Hospital, Shelter From the Storm, Northeast Oregon Public Transit, Northeast Oregon Housing Authority and Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization.

Jill Boyd, primary care transformation specialist with EOCCO, said she was “super excited” about the event and its turnout.

Some of the donated items she was giving away were hand warmers, camping utensils, sanitary items and water bottles.

“We have gotten a ton of donations,” she said, noting that anything that wasn’t distributed during the event would be passed on to Union County’s new warming station.

She said the participants have said how grateful they are for the donations.

“They can’t believe we’re giving them the items,” Boyd said. “We’re helping people stay safe and warm. It’s been really great.”

Angie Peters, Northeast Oregon Public Transit manager, said she’s heard stories of how people have suddenly found themselves in a homeless situation.

A lot of us are just one crisis away from being homeless, she said.

“I was talking to a gentleman earlier who had a car accident 15 months ago,” Peters said. “That was it. He became homeless because of his accident.”

Hensley said Community Connection plans to make this an annual event.

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