Haircuts and helping hands: Project Homeless Connect Event provides services, coincides with Point In Time Count

Event at Aberdeen Senior Center drew roughly 150

Before she became a behavioral health navigator for the Hoquiam Police Department, Laina Caldwell was a hairdresser.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, those two professions collided at the Aberdeen Senior Center.

There — along with fellow hairdressers Krystina Jack and Pat Gordon, longtime owner of Pat’s Trim and Style — she provided haircuts for homeless individuals and those at risk of homelessness.

That simple act, one many find routine, Caldwell said, can be a “huge, life-changing moment for someone.”

But such cosmetic procedures were only part of the scene at the senior center Thursday. Dozens of health and human service agencies, local nonprofits, government entities and others came together for the Project Homeless Connect Event, hosted by the Coastal Community Action Program. The event was aimed at connecting those currently homeless or at risk of homelessness with essential services and information.

The event also coincided with the annual Point In Time Count, an annual survey meant to gather information about homelessness, conducted each January on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Craig Dublanko, CEO of CCAP, the agency that owns the senior center building, said about 150 people sought services at the event, most of whom are currently homeless. “Significantly more” people attended the event this year than last year, although the pandemic limited attendance last year, Dublanko said.

“I think the team did a really good job getting the word out, and that helped make sure people had access to it,” Dublanko said.

“The atmosphere was great, and everybody was in a great mood,” Dublanko said.

Dublanko said CCAP contracts with Grays Harbor County Public Health to fund the event.

Upon entry, homeless individuals filled out a survey that recorded demographic information and data about current and past housing stability. Then, attendees could connect with up to 49 different vendors, whose tables lined the center of the event space.

“When you are homeless, life can be complicated,” Dublanko said. “You have a lot of pieces to put back together, so an event like that helps because there are so many different things all in one spot.”

Some vendors offered health programs, housing assistance or addiction recovery programs, while others provided more basic assistance — representatives from the U.S. Social Security Administration connected some people with benefits; others registered for identification cards and driver’s licenses with the Washington State Department of Licensing.

As she ate the provided hot meal, a chili dog, Christine Alefteras, who attended the event, said she benefited from the connection with those government agencies, as well as other vendors.

“Being homeless, this is all new for me, and it’s humbling,” Alefteras said. “I’m going to be able to get my license now, get my Social Security card, and they are going to help me get a job.”

She added, “These people are just amazing — they go out of their way to help you and make you feel comfortable.”

For others, it was access to information that proved most valuable. Vicki VanCourt, who lives in a trailer without running water and relies on Social Security and disability programs for income, said one vendor told her about a medical card she currently owns that could purchase items such as Aspirin.

“I’ve gotten older, and things hurt worse now than they ever did,” she said.

Volunteers in green shirts buzzed around the senior center Thursday, guiding attendees through the rows of services. One volunteer, Brandon Rugg, said he felt it was important to inform guests about available services without forcing them to sign up.

Rugg benefited from the volunteer work — he said the work was part of his service for Grays Harbor Drug Court. While helping others connect with local agencies, Rugg said, he learned more about services available for his own benefit.

Other volunteers were dipping their toe into the world of social services. By volunteering to help with the event, Angela Anderson, 47, of Raymond, said she was earning credit toward a bachelor’s degree in human services at Grays Harbor College.

Upon leaving the senior center, attendees could pick up a bag with survival items, which were purchased at surplus stores. The bags included items such as first aid kits, gloves, and socks, among others.

Despite the large attendance at Thursday’s event, it wasn’t the only data collection tool for the Point In Time Count. Dublanko said CCAP sent out teams to homeless camps in rural areas of the county prior to the event to get a headcount. That data, along with numbers from Thursday’s event, should provide an estimate of Grays Harbor’s homeless population.

The data, which won’t be released for at least a few weeks, goes into a state database for homelessness statistics, Dublanko said, and is used by policymakers and program administrators to make decisions about funding and effectiveness of programs.

“We’re really grateful for every vendor that showed up, every volunteer that showed up,” Dublanko said. “That’s what makes a successful event.”

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or