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Ted Hundtoft has been attending Bozeman’s annual Community Connect event since it was first held 12 years ago in the basement of First Presbyterian Church.

Now at the Bozeman Public Library, the event is an annual gathering of social service providers, like veterans’ assistance, job services and medical care. It’s sponsored by the Greater Gallatin United Way and organized by the Greater Gallatin Homeless Action Coalition.

At Saturday’s event, people could meander and get information from organizations like Family Promise and Western Montana Mental Health. A table full of baked goods and coffee were up for grabs. Bozeman Health’s mobile clinic offered free health check-ups and a veterinarian was on-hand to treat pets. The Academy of Cosmetology offered complimentary haircuts.

Hundtoft, who’s lived in Bozeman for 40 years, said he looks forward to the event to catch up with friends and get an update on the services offered in the area. He sees some of the same organizations every year, like Salvation Army and the Human Resource Development Council.

“This is a showcase to see who’s available,” Hundtoft said.

He was particularly excited about the prizes offered through a raffle. Any person who got at least eight signatures of the 27 providers there could enter into the contest. Hundtoft was the first to win and picked out a shiny new Gerber multi-tool as a prize. He said it would replace the old Swiss Army Knife hanging from a shoestring in his pocket.

Michele Letendre, with Job Service Montana and a coordinator for the homeless action coalition, said the raffle is meant to encourage attendees to engage with service providers.

However, engagement was not an issue for Letendre herself.

Nearly every person who walked up to Letendre at the event greeted her as an old friend. She’s been a part of the homeless action coalition since it was founded and sees a lot of the same people at the job service. She said Community Connect reflects how the coalition has evolved.

“When we started this, we thought we knew what the homeless population needed. We did not,” Letendre said.

She said the nonprofit used to hand out supplies like tents and sleeping bags, but organizers soon realized that people weren’t able to carry these bulky items. She said the action coalition has found that providing services and ensuring access to them is the most effective way to help the homeless population.

The number of those services seems to be growing. Community Connect had to be moved to the library because it had grown too big to be in a church basement.

Hailey Hogan, with the Bozeman Help Center, said having so many organizations gathered in one place makes it easier for people to connect with a service they need. She said people sometimes feel too intimidated to ask for help.

When someone approaches the Help Center’s table at the event, Hogan talks to them about every service it offers whether the person asks or not.

“I touch on everything we do because you never know what someone might need,” Hogan said.

The Help Center operates a 24-hour crisis intervention hotline, a sexual assault counseling center and Sacks Thrift Store, among other services.

Community Connect was also a chance to highlight the library’s new resource hub, Open Door. It’s a small room off the lobby where a variety of organizations and government agencies, like the Bozeman Police Department, can hold office hours and answer questions. It opened in January, and so far, the schedule has been full.

Letendre said she hopes Open Door will be so effective in promoting Bozeman’s social services that Community Connect or the homeless action coalition won’t be needed in the way they are today.

“I think our goal is to have enough wrap-around services year round that someday we might not need this effort,” Letendre said.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.

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