Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Project Homeless Connect... Portland, OR

Yesterday we participated in what was essentially a homeless persons expo, hosted at the Portland Convention Center. Over 300 volunteers, including 40 members of our cast, worked at Project Homeless Connect. The convention center was filled with stations where the homeless could come and get vision, medical and dental care, haircuts, pet care, benefits assessments, lunch, blankets, soap and other personal hygiene supplies. I ate with a young family who had been living on the street for the past few months. He was permanently injured in the military and she used to be a migrant worker at construction sites throughout the Pacific Northwest, but now can’t work construction because she’s pregnant. They have a young daughter who is just over a year old. They were so grateful for this program because got six months of stuff done in five hours. When you walk everywhere you go in a large metro area (she said they average 5-12 miles each day, pushing their daughter’s stroller), it can take a long time to get to the various agencies that do offer support to this family.

My job at the expo was to escort the dental patients out to the portable dental trailers parked outside. There were only 30 appointments available in the day, and another 50 available for two days later. What was hard to see was the people who were prioritized for the appointments. Anyone who needed only minor dental work was turned away, in order to get those people with emergency mouth needs in the chair. So basically, you got an appointment if you were in incredible pain or you needed an extraction. Anyone who needed “only” a filling, had minor teeth issues, or any problems with dentures was out of luck.

I understand the need to prioritize helping those in the worst shape, but there is a sad irony that so many people who needed minor care this time will be back next year when their situations are bad enough to warrant an appointment.

No comments: