LORAIN — Combating homelessness was a community effort Wednesday during the annual Lorain County Homeless Stand Down health and resource fair at Sacred Heart Chapel on Pearl Avenue.
The annual event brought more than 100 homeless persons, their families and at least 62 homeless veterans together, organizers said, to receive free hot meals and get services to help them out of poverty, sickness and housing insecurity.
The Nord Center, The LCADA Way, ADAS Lorain County, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Lorain County Health and Dentistry, the Genesis House, Lorain County Community Action Agency and half a dozen other service organizations set up tables in the church gymnasium to pass out literature and connect with those in need.
One of the organizers, Kathy Burns of Oberlin Community Services and the Lorain County Homeless Task Force - a group of 11 service organizations - said the annual event showed that the need is great in Lorain County.
The crowd that showed up at 9 a.m. Wednesday stayed for hot meals and to find services, and “there were still a lot of people out” as of noon, she said.
Sacred Heart hosted the event for the fourth year, and Burns said it would have been hard to pull it off without church volunteers to serve food, set up and clean up. Lunch was catered by Fligners and breakfast was provided by Spectrum Academy, Burns said.
Several of those in need were willing to share their stories and their hopes for the future.
Christie Wallhead said her journey took her from Lorain County to Austin, Texas, and back again. The mother of seven doesn’t have custody of any of her children right now, she said, and recently fled what she said was an abusive relationship.
The man she thought was her “Prince Charming” turned into “Jekyll and Hyde,” she said, taking her hard-earned money, not letting her cut her hair, physically assaulting her and running around with other women.
Wallhead only was able to get back to Ohio when her boss and co-workers bought her bus tickets, she said. Her mother has helped her, she said, but there’s more she needs.
Now in mental health treatment, Wallhead said she is without a car, waiting on housing assistance and unable to work until she finishes “working on me,” she said.
“I’ve been through hell,” Wallhead said.
Writing poetry helps, she said, reading to a visitor several of her poems about being in an abusive relationship but also about having inner strength.
Beyond support services, there was a chance to get pampered by volunteer barbers and hairdressers, for a self-esteem boost or to prepare for job interviews.
Sporting fresh pink nail polish, a woman named Mary sat getting her hair done by stylist Christina Prihoda. An Amherst native and mother of two, Mary said she lives with a distant cousin but signed up Wednesday for assistance from the Lorain Metropolitan Housing Authority.
Just out of what she described as an abusive relationship, it was the first time Mary had ever had her hair and nails done professionally, she said.
Mary has been applying for food service work, she said, and is doing better now that she’s out of her old relationship.
“I’m so happy,” Mary said.
Prihoda said she has been cutting and styling hair at the Stand Down for the past three years.
“It’s one little way to give back,” she said.
Wallhead also got her nails and hair done at the Stand Down.
“They asked me how long it has been since I felt pampered, and I told them ‘17 years,’” she said.
Motioning around the room, she said: “Right now, all of us here, we’re all survivors.”