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In search of a connection

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Angela Killion brought her resume—all six pages of it—with her to the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect in Missoula on January 28. The extensive document covers her work as a college instructor, legal assistant and counselor, but it hasn't done her much good in Missoula's dismal job market.

"I just can't find work here," said Killion, who also holds a master's degree in experimental psychology. "It's like nobody will look at me."

Odd jobs and food stamps have helped the mother of two stay afloat, but further struggles could put Killion among Missoula's homeless population. That's why she and hundreds of others waited at First United Baptist Church in search of free legal assistance, counseling and medical exams, among other services, at the event organized by Missoula's At-Risk Housing Coalition.

Bruce Warne, like Killion, is not yet homeless, but worries he may be unless he finds a job soon. He says he has filled out around 50 job applications in the 10 months he's been unemployed.

"We could use help in over half of the columns," said Warne as he filled out a questionnaire listing available services at the event. He adds that he's particularly interested in taking advantage of the free dental and eye care.

Melissa Gordon of the At-Risk Housing Coalition said this year's event was much busier than in years past.

"There was a line until about 2 [p.m.]," she said. "We saw a lot of new faces this year."

Around her, people browsed racks of clothing and waited in line to get haircuts or talk to social workers. Volunteers in the kitchen baked 1,200 cookies, used more than 20 loaves of bread for sandwiches and made a vat of soup so big it covered the entire stovetop. Two barbers working non-stop gave around 50 haircuts by the day's end. These individual services combined to offer some reprieve for the city's homeless and those perilously close to joining them. For Rodney French, a father of three, the incentive for showing up was as simple as a few hours off a difficult job search.

"You go to the library and there's a two-hour wait for a computer, and that's kind of hard with three little ones," he said. "This really helps."

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