County helps homeless with day of free services -- Gazette.Net


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Thomas Kolf has been eating reheated turkey and rice every day for the past two weeks. At the homeless shelter where he’s spent the last 13 months, that’s all they have, he said. The donations to his transitional home, Bethesda House, are “lower and lower” now, he said.

But with some help from Montgomery County, the city of Gaithersburg and their partners, he got a free eye exam and assistance with his health insurance.

More than 30 vendors, including local organizations, doctors, health experts, volunteers and a balloon-making clown, gathered Thursday for the second annual Homeless Resource Day event at Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park Activity Center. According to Kim Ball, administrator of Montgomery County’s Homeless Services, almost 350 volunteers came out to help the homeless. About 60 of them were from Montgomery College, while almost 100 came from the University of Maryland, she said.

“There’s been a good turnout,” Ball said. Several vans were deployed to pick up unsheltered homeless people at the Bethesda, Shady Grove, Silver Spring and Rockville Metro stations, and buses ran to and from shelters during the event.

“This year it seems a lot calmer,” she said, noting that they “wanted guides to spend more time with their guests.”

Guides like Jordan Monroe, a Montgomery College student, were paired with homeless individuals to help them navigate the tables and services at the event. Monroe, a Gaithersburg resident, said she had always wanted to help homeless shelters, and that the event was an easy way for her to get involved. She was assigned to help Kolf while he was at the event.

Kolf was in a car accident in 2010 that crushed two vertebrae in his back. He said he was lucky his spinal cord was intact and he was able to walk, but “I knew I lost my job,” he said. He was working as a pest control technician before the accident.

Besides owing Suburban Hospital thousands of dollars, Kolf said the cost of his medical expenses were too much, and he sought help with his insurance.

“One prescription costs $160, and I only have $1,100 to work with,” he said.

Indira Shaik, who manned the table for Elkridge-based UnitedHealthcare, said she talked to about 50 people in the first two hours of the event about health insurance. Next to her, a massage therapist gave free massages on the spot.

“We believe in a holistic approach,” Shaik said.

The massage therapist, Germantown resident Ellen Olmstead, is also an English professor at Montgomery College in Rockville. Olmstead said she works with UnitedHealthcare about once a month to provide massages to the homeless. Her services help her connect with her community, she said.

“I find it gratifying,” Olmstead said.

Ellen Brown, a county employee who organized the event’s health partners and services, said they could not have pulled together the event, attended by more than 300 homeless people, without their generosity. Lions Clubs of Montgomery County and MyEyeDr donated prescription glasses, made to order, for the event’s attendees.

“[Our partners] are truly donating out of the goodness of their heart,” she said.

scarignan@gazette.net