Community agencies and volunteers joined together to provide resources, education and guidance for people who are homeless or on the verge of losing their home, through a community event at the Hannibal-LaGrange University Mabee Sports Complex on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

Community agencies and volunteers joined together to provide resources, education and guidance for people who are homeless or on the verge of losing their home, through a community event at the Hannibal-LaGrange University Mabee Sports Complex on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

Homelessness does not fit a specific stereotype or target people from a specific demographic category. The situation could affect a person living with a friend after losing a job, or their neighbor who faces mounting medical bills and is danger of losing their home — homelessness does not apply solely to people living on the streets, and its factors are widely varied, Missouri Housing Development Commission Public Information Administrator Brian Vollenweider said.

The Homeless Connect event in Hannibal came together through a concerted effort between local, federal and state organizations and the Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness, which sponsored the statewide program annually since 2009. Tuesday marked the first such event for the Hannibal area, bringing a myriad of services, educational materials and outreach opportunities to one location, Vollenweider said.

Vollenweider commended Gov. Jay Nixon for his dedication to ending homelessness. Douglass Community Services and NECAC worked with the the Missouri Housing Development Commission to hold the day-long event. Volunteers staffed each table throughout the complex to offer ways to prevent homelessness through self-sufficiency practices and education, NECAC Deputy Director of Community Services Janice Robinson said.

Robinson explained that NECAC and fellow groups connected people with the right services for his or her situation, including veterans services, mental health care, assistance for rent and utilities and health insurance assistance.

For women and children, the biggest cause of homelessness is domestic violence, AVENUES Executive Director Judy Edmonson said. She handed out bags of hygiene products and shared information about the services the group provides to victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence.

At the Mark Twain Behavioral Health table, Intake Coordinator and Marketing Specialist Rhonda Byers said mental illness and homelessness are intertwined.

Mark Twain Behavioral Health offers a fully-staffed outpatient program to help people with mental illnesses. People with mental illnesses often face situations such as high medical bills or conditions that affect their daily routine. These factors make it particularly difficult to maintain a job and keep a home. Although mental health services are still lacking in the area, our community works hard to reach out to those in need, Byers said.

The Hannibal Free Clinic recently added mental health services with a full-time counselor, a nurse practitioner who works once per week, a full-time nurse who provides nutrition and diabetic training and a part-time case worker who assists patients with applications for state and federal services, transportation and housing assistance, Hannibal Free Clinic Registered Nurse Teresa Kendrick said.

Clarity Healthcare — which provides dental, behavioral, mental and medical care — offered free dental screenings and fluoride applications. Staff members also scheduled appointments for patients who receive free dental care from the provider, Registered Dental Hygienist Lindsay Anderson said.

NECAC’s Family Planning/Health Services program shared information and free items related to family planning practices and screenings including cervical cancer tests and mammograms. The volunteers helped participants access to the Show Me Healthy Women Program and Title 10, Deputy Director of Community Health Service Programs Brenda Fuqua said.

A medical triage corner offered medical screenings for areas including vision, glucose, family planning and skin, volunteer Stacie Robertson said.

Preferred Family Healthcare staff members shared tips for healthy dieting and free cholesterol screenings and blood sugar tests. Staff members hoped to help people avoid the consequences of long-term diabetes through early screening, volunteer Earl Cox said.

“People are surprised to know how lower blood sugar can improve quality of life,” Licensed Practical Nurse Lyndsey Pafford said.

At the next table, volunteers from Douglass Community Services Head Start program helped families with children five years old or younger join the program, which includes prenatal care, classroom experience for children ages three to five and family child care for children three years old and younger. Volunteers operated a Kids Zone for child care to assist parents attending the event, Site Recruitment Relations Administrator Lisa Eisenberg said.

Douglass Community Services volunteers staffed another table to connect people with utility assistance. Staff members set a goal to move three to four families into homes by Wednesday, through a triage project between Douglass Community Services and other non-profit groups, Housing Stability Case Manager Mike Blase said.

SNAP Project Manager Melanie Hickcox from Feeding Missouri — the association of food banks in Missouri — helped people apply for food stamp assistance, gather the appropriate documents and provide followup services. The Food Bank of Central Missouri donated buddy bags filled with personal hygiene items, cereal, soup, lasagna and a potato entree.

The American Red Cross partnered to educate participants about disaster preparedness. The two groups canvassed Hannibal from Collier Street to the south, placing door hangers announcing free installation of smoke alarms. Since the program’s beginning nine months ago, the new alarms saved 15 lives in communities including Quincy, Springfield, Ill. and Canton, Ill., American Red Cross volunteer Dwain Wilkerson said.

Nearby, The St. Francis Xavier Outreach Program, from St. Louis, provided free state identification cards and birth certificates to participants.

Great Clips employees joined a volunteer from Attitudes and from the Loft to provide free haircuts. Next door, Manpower Branch Manager Robyn Stockhorst assisted visitors with online applications for permanent and temporary employment opportunities in the area. She said she also discussed Manpower’s referral program with numerous current members.

Hannibal Board of Public Works CSR Kathleen Robertson helped new customers sign up for local utility service and answered questions related to billing locations and where to find utility assistance.

Liberty Utilities Customer Service Representative Sharisse Nemes offered information about old and existing gas bills and suggestions for budget billing, which spreads higher winter bill costs throughout the year. Nemes said she felt the event was a success for the area.

“I think it’s only going to grow in the coming years,” she said.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Area Specialists Janine Stephenson and Daniel Niemeyer shared applications for home purchases, home repairs and apartment rental options for people receiving low incomes. The programs can be subsidized with federal funds, which “hopefully gives them that step up,” Niemeyer said.

At the Hannibal Housing Authority table, Housing Manager Michelle Golian accepted applications for public housing and Section 8 housing — which involves a tenant renting from a landlord and the Housing Authority pays a portion of the rent, based on income guidelines.

At every table, the goal was consistent: provide the services and tools to put an end to homelessness.

“It’s a blessing to see them when they get housed,” Golian said.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com