Best Practices for Helping People Experiencing Homelessness

Best Practices for Helping People Experiencing Homelessness

Volunteers assist Birmingham’s Community Kitchens, which serves lunch at both their Southside (St. Andrews) and Woodlawn (Grace Episcopal) locations. Photo taken from Community Kitchen Facebook photos*

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 ( Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay informed.

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