Scores of people on Friday ate hot meals, gathered clothing and blankets, received health screenings and counseling, and got haircuts at the annual Project Homeless Connect downtown.

"It's a one-stop resource fair for anyone in the community that is homeless or near-homeless, for them to be able to connect to various resources in the community," said Lori Burns with the Casper Housing Authority and its nonprofit arm.

About 20 agencies and charities participate in the event that historically has served about 150 people during the day, Burns said.

Those needing went to King's Corner, a ministry of First United Methodist Church, were greeted at the door and then referred to someone who interviewed them about their situation and their needs.

From there, they were referred to the agencies agencies that could help them, coats and other clothing, and especially haircuts where there's always a line.

"People don't realize the power of a haircut," Burns said.

Most people take haircuts for granted, she said. "For these people, that's a luxury."

Other agencies included the Casper Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity, the Wyoming Housing Network, the Salvation Army, Interfaith, the Wyoming Rescue Mission, employment agencies, a tax service, and legal advice.

Project Homeless coincides with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's annual point-in-time count of the homeless, Burns said.

The point-in-time count influences how much federal funding is available for communities to address homelessness, she said.

The number of homeless numbered in the point-in-time count in Casper has averaged about 40 to 50 people a year, Burns said.

While it's not connected to the point-in-time count, the decennial census occurs this year and that also affects how much money the federal government allocates to communities to deal with homelessness, Burns added.

The stigma of being homeless appears to be waning, and that's apparent with the increasing number of volunteers who contribute to the point-in-time and the Project Homeless programs.

That brings an awareness that this population exists in Casper, Burns said. "We do need to serve them; we do need to help them."

Because "them" could be anybody.

"What people don't realize is that most families are two paychecks away from being homeless," Burns said.

"That's a startling statistic, that in two paychecks you're out on the street, lose your house and all that stuff," she said.

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