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Harford County, United Way, hosting Project Homeless Connect at HCC arena Thursday

Free dental and vision care, along with an array of other services, will be available for people experiencing homelessness during the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect.

The event — Thursday at APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College — is a partnership between the Harford County government and the United Way of Central Maryland. It is expected “to bring available resources and generous donors to help our neighbors in need,” according to Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for the county government.

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More than 50 organizations, offering an array of services, will attend, Mumby said.

Hundreds of volunteers will be on hand to help attendees, whom the United Way calls “guests,” navigate the process.

The volunteers meet with the guests, determine their needs and then connect them with the appropriate services, Mumby said.

Free transportation is also available via the Harford Transit LINK bus service. Passengers can simply tell the bus driver that they are going to HCC for Project Homeless Connect, Mumby said.

The churches, volunteers and government agencies who pulled together to make Harford County's winter rotating homeless shelter successful in its second year received certificates of recognition from the County Council at a luncheon Monday.

Anybody who has a disability or needs other travel accommodations should call 410-893-1535.

Lunch will be provided, parking is free, and children are welcome.

Doors open for dental patients at 7 a.m., and the main event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The doors will close for new arrivals at 2:30 p.m., according to Scott Gottbreht, associate vice president of homeless services for the United Way of Central Maryland.

The event’s snow day is Jan. 31, with the same hours of 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., although the dental clinic will not be rescheduled, Gottbreht said.

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The dental clinic typically involves 20 dentists from private practices volunteering their time to serve about 150 patients.

About 20 people operate the vision clinic, including six vision professionals such as optometrists and ophthalmologists. They serve about 120 patients, who can get fitted for glasses on site.

People can also meet with representatives of the United Way’s 211 service, which Gottbreht compares to “911 for social services.” People in need of aid can call 211 any time and be connected to the appropriate service.

Gottbreht said Project Homeless Connect brings all available services under one roof.

There are 14 organizations and businesses sponsoring the event, such as the Maryland State Dental Association, Advanced Eye Care, Pat’s Pizzeria, Healthy Harford and Health Cecil, the Harford Mutual insurance firm, the Jones Junction auto dealership, the Harford County government, HCC, Harford Technical High School and others.

Gottbreht said the purpose of the event is to reduce as many barriers as possible between people experiencing homelessness and the services they need.

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An average of 400 to 500 guests attend Project Homeless Connect in Harford County each year, and about 300 to 400 community volunteers serve as trained guides for the guests, Gottbreht said.

He said volunteers spend time getting to know the guests and their needs, so they can “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

“They can see all the barriers and challenges that people who are struggling with their housing have to overcome,” Gottbreht said. “They can see first hand what that’s like.”

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