Group addressess homelessness in Jefferson City

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JEFFERSON CITY - Project Homeless Connect gave haircuts, food, clothing and medical assistance to dozens of homeless people at its first event Tuesday.

One of the around 200 volunteers said anyone can become homeless.

"It doesn't matter what your financial background is. It doesn't matter if you're white, black or Hispanic. Poverty can strike at any time, and we are literally one paycheck away from where a lot of the people here are," Patrick Williams said.

Based on data from the Statewide Homelessness Study in 2013, homelessness in Missouri increased by nearly 4,000 people between 2007-2012. A different study, from the HUD said the percentage of people living with homelessness in Missouri dropped from 2013 to 2014 by over 15 percent, or a total of 1,299 people.

Despite the decrease, Kristen Hilty, the director of the Common Ground Community building, said the problem still exists in Jefferson City and across the state.

"We found there are approximately 125 individuals homeless in Jefferson City. That included people living in shelters as well as living on the street," Hilty said.

That is up 10 people from the previous year, Hilty said, and the number is likely much higher due to the difficulty in recording the number of homeless people in the area.

A homeless woman attending the event said it gives her hope.

"It's made me realize I'm not the only person out there struggling. And maybe through my situation and everything I have gone through, it can give help and hope to somebody else," Kristina Hughes said.

Hughes said she hopes the services will continue.

"A lot of times we don't know who to reach out to," she said. "In reaching out, we're not asking for a hand out. We are asking for a hand up."

The Marketing Chair for Project Homeless Connect, Natalie Newville,  said she hopes this event will be the first of an annual event to happen every year.