On the eve of Springfield’s “Project Homeless Connect,” Mayor Domenic Sarno announced today that two local agencies that serve the homeless population have been awarded $1.7 million in federal grants: the housing-assistance agency HAP, Inc., and Catholic Charities. The money comes from federal economic stimulus funds.

According to a release from the mayor’s office, more than 250 Springfield families are living in emergency shelters and motel rooms. “[T]hese funds will be used to fund new approaches to family homelessness, including assisting families about to enter shelter with better solutions to their housing crisis, and working to quickly re-house families that do enter shelter,” the announcement quotes Sarno. “The funds will also support families in developing long-term strategies to keep stable housing.”

The mayor’s office says the number of homeless individuals in the city has dropped 18 percent over the past three years (under a new homelessness-reduction effort that began under the Ryan administration and has continued under Sarno). The new funds, the mayor said, will be targeted to homeless families.

That’s also the focus of tomorrow’s “Project Homeless Connect,” an annual event held downtown at the MassMutual Center, where homeless people are invited to meet with representatives from dozens of organizations that offers things health screenings, legal assistance, food and clothing aid, and housing assistance. Local businesses also attend, offering participants free haircuts, massages and other services. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

As Mike Dobbs recently reported in the Reminder, “Homeless Connect” is a national effort that began in 2004 in San Francisco; 11 cities, including Springfield, will host local events this year.

Click here for Bill Peters’ coverage of the 2008 event, including an interview with Phil Mangano, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, in Local Buzz, and here for Arise for Social Justice co-founder Michaelann Bewsee’s coverage on her blog, MichaelannLand.