Help End Homelessness: Community Awareness, Coordination, and Service
Last fall, when I began my AmeriCorps term of service with One Roof, I was introduced to our three-tiered approach for preventing and ending homelessness: advocacy, education, and coordination of services. I helped coordinate two of One Roof’s major annual events, Point-in-Time and Project Homeless Connect, and saw the work that One Roof does daily to assist people in housing crisis with finding the service providers most appropriate for them. Like most people who have never worked with people experiencing homelessness, I was in need of education about the causes of homelessness and what can be done to prevent and end homelessness. Right now I am finishing up my year of service by assisting the Street Outreach Program (STOP) at the Firehouse Shelter, a One Roof member agency that serves men experiencing homelessness. Much of what I’ve learned this year about homelessness and poverty within our community has been fully illuminated by spending time with the Street Outreach Team on the streets of Birmingham and at The Firehouse Shelter.
STOP Program Coordinator (and One Roof board member) Nicole Arlain works to connect those living on the street with the programs at Firehouse and with community resources throughout Jefferson County. Along with Dena Dickerson, the only other staff member working full time on street outreach, Nicole visits places most service providers cannot. The path to guiding those living on the street in Birmingham to stable housing often begins under a bridge or in an abandoned building, where Street Outreach visits build trust and relationships in order to assist those that are in need. This is a huge task when you consider that Firehouse is one of the only agencies actively doing street outreach in Birmingham.
Nicole and Dena understand something that One Roof staff members have stressed to me since my service began: a major barrier to the success of agency programs is too often a lack of awareness about community resources. Homelessness can only be ended through a coordinated community effort involving not only service providers, but businesses, churches, and individual community members as well. Businesses only a few blocks from the shelter may not be aware that contacting STOP is a more sustainable alternative to having the police arrest someone they feel is disrupting their business. Locking someone up in an overcrowded jail for living on the street is not sustainable because it perpetuates homelessness and poverty and wastes valuable community resources. STOP gives clients the guidance and care that will empower them to stay off the street permanently. But despite all the direct efforts of program staff at Firehouse and the coordination efforts at One Roof, people will continue to fall through the cracks if the community is not aware that these agencies and services exist.
Over the past year of serving as an Americorps member with One Roof and Firehouse, I have had the opportunity to see the full scope of what solving homelessness looks like in Birmingham. Serving with the Firehouse Shelter has given me a richer perspective on my service with One Roof. Partnerships between direct service agencies like Firehouse and coordinating agencies like One Roof empower patient, hardworking people to make lasting changes for those in need; changes that, in some cases, may literally save someone’s life. In my service with both agencies, I have been able to see the entire journey it takes for someone to leave homelessness — from a client taking their first step off the street by spending a night in emergency shelter, to moving into Firehouse’s transitional housing, to individuals who have progressed to living in their own homes and returning to the Firehouse as an employee or volunteer.
Please help One Roof and all of its agencies by taking time to learn and spread the word about programs like STOP. Help Firehouse empower people to get off the streets by raising awareness of their programs and services. One Roof and our member agencies are dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness in central Alabama through advocacy, education, and the coordination of services. Ending homelessness is a community effort and we cannot do this without you. Educate yourself and educate your fellow community members about the agencies and services in our community. Help us end homelessness.
John McGregor is an AmeriCorps member serving at One Roof as the Communications & Community Outreach Assistant and is completing his year of service with the Firehouse Shelter’s Street Outreach team. He served with the Marine Corps Reserve Unit in Bessemer from 2004-2010 and deployed twice to Iraq.
Best Practices for Helping People Experiencing Homelessness
At One Roof, we are dedicated to our mission of equipping and empowering our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and the coordination of services. To further our mission, we research and advocate for the most effective ways to empower people experiencing homelessness (PEH) in our community to leave homelessness forever. We particularly appreciate what Liz Hixson, Volunteer Coordinator and Development Associate at Pathways (a local agency serving homeless women and children), has to say about this very important issue:
Dr. Ruby Payne, a leading expert on the mindsets of different economic classes and overcoming poverty, explains that poverty occurs due to a lack of resources: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationship, and knowledge of hidden rules. All of these areas contribute to poverty, not just a lack of food or money. When people address only these two surface issues, is it possible that we are actually hurting the very people we so desperately desire to help? (Read more here: Enabling or Empowering?: Considering How We Help the Homeless)
We love how Hixson asks our community to consider the difference between what enables a person experiencing homelessness and what empowers them. Here are our suggestions to help empower people experiencing homelessness in our community:
If someone approaches you asking for help (including money), offer information. In our continuum, this means you can give them One Roof’s phone number (254-8833) and we can make an appropriate referral. You can also learn the appropriate resources for immediate assistance:
First Light Shelter — First Light provides shelter, food, case management, and other resources to women and women with children experiencing homelessness. They are located at the intersection of 23rd Street and 4th Avenue North.
Pathways — Pathways has a day center open to women and children in need of clothing, food, laundry, and showering facilities, as well as contact with case managers. They are located on Richard Arrington Blvd. between 4th and 5th Avenue North.
Firehouse Shelter — Firehouse offers a day shelter, meals, emergency shelter, access to case management, and many other services to men experiencing homelessness, including opportunities for transitional and permanent supportive housing. They are located at 3rd Avenue and 15th Street North.
Salvation Army — Salvation Army offers emergency shelter, transitional housing, substance abuse treatment, access to case management, and many other services to men, women, and families experiencing homelessness. They are located at 2130 11th Avenue North.
Church of the Reconciler — Church of the Reconciler serves many people who are literally homeless in Birmingham. They offer support groups, several public meals, and assistance with applications for important needs like housing and healthcare. Reconciler also has a regular medical clinic through UAB Equal Access. They are located at 2nd Avenue and 14th Street North.
Suggestion: Learn about agencies serving your community and what they need. One Roof member agencies work tirelessly to serve people in housing crisis, and supporting these organizations means they can take better care and offer better support to those members of our community.
Think twice before providing food to people experiencing homelessness in public outdoor spaces such as parks and under bridges. Without access to bathrooms and proper sanitation, public feeding becomes a health issue for PEH. By partnering with an agency or Magic City Harvest, you can cut down on waste, prevent people from getting sick due to food contamination, and take a step toward empowering someone to leave homelessness. Feeding in parks and under bridges does not offer that person who is homeless the dignity that they deserve, and it enables someone who needs help to stay on the street. For more information on this issue, take a look at this blog post written by One Roof’s Executive Director, Michelle Farley.
Suggestion:If you want to prevent and end homelessness in Birmingham by offering a meal, join the coordinated efforts that already exist to offer sustenance to people experiencing homelessness. Shelters often want that help with serving a meal!
Think twice before giving money to someone who is panhandling. Panhandling is a tool for survival, but it’s also a method that enables someone to stay homeless. There is no shortage of agencies serving public meals. Quite often, mental illness is a contributing factor to the vulnerability of people experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, this means that money (understandably) will sometimes go toward methods for coping, including substances that are abused. We ask that community members think about truly sustainable ways to give money, such as supporting agencies who provide direct services that empower PEH to gain stability. By giving $10 to a PEH, are you truly helping that person into a home with the stability, care, and decent housing that every person deserves? Probably not.
Suggestion:Supporting emergency shelters like First Light, Salvation Army, and Firehouse means that those agencies have the tools and community support that they need to empower PEH in Birmingham to leave homelessness forever.
Stay informed about issues related to homelessness and housing. By educating yourself on the need and the services that already exist in the community, and using your voice to advocate for better access to housing in Alabama, you can make a difference. For example, you can use your voice to advocate for a secured, dedicated revenue source to go to the Alabama Housing Trust Fund or volunteer to conduct interviews with One Roof during Point-in-Time 2015.
One Roof is dedicated to equipping and empowering our community to prevent and end homelessness in central Alabama through advocacy, education, and coordination of services. Ending homelessness in central Alabama requires a coordinated community effort and we cannot do this without you. For more suggestions on how you can prevent and end homelessness in Alabama, feel free to contact us by phone (205-254-8833) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay informed.