Stress of the Summer: How Homeless Families Are Surviving the Break From School

by Sarah Goldman

School is out and summer is here. Kids all around Alabama are enjoying the sun, long days, and not having the stress of homework and upcoming projects. Summer for most kids is a celebration of all the hard work they did during the school year, but unfortunately for families experiencing homelessness it’s a transition from the one constant they had in their lives. When summer comes around, children living in families experiencing homelessness no longer have their daily routine of going to school or the stability of having that constant part of their life. Beyond that children in these situations are losing the important math, reading, science, and literary skills they obtained during the school year.

According to a study done in 2014 using data from One Roof, during the summer months and holidays, there are more families in the Birmingham area staying in homeless shelters than during the school year. This has become even more evident over the past few years. This trend is important to consider because when homeless families need a home the most, they are having to come to homeless shelters. During the school year homeless families will occasionally have the opportunity to stay with family and friends while the kids are in school. Unfortunately, when school is over or holidays come around families experiencing homelessness can no longer stay with friends and family, because the person taking them in might not want to have children around their house all day.  So what are some efforts that people are doing around the nation to help curb this loss of knowledge and routine? Uncensored magazine, a magazine that talks about American families experiencing poverty and homelessness, discusses this issue in their summer 2015 edition.

In the Uncensored magazine article, Summertime Not a Break for Homeless Families by Lauren Bludin, the article talks about how families around the country are dealing with homelessness during the summer. This article touches on kindergarteners to college students dealing with homelessness during the summer. For example, homeless children might end up staying in a shelter all day with nothing to keep them or their minds occupied, which causes them to lose important lessons they learned in school. Whereas, other children attend camps to retain their schooling causing kids experiencing homelessness who are already behind, to fall further behind because of their lack of funds.

One agency mentioned in the article that is working to bridge this gap is Faces without Places, a nonprofit organization based in Cincinnati, Ohio that has for the past 18 years put on The Yellow Bus Summer Camp. This is a free camp that transports homeless children from ages 5 to 12 from shelters to different places where they can learn, have fun, and get their minds off of the homelessness they are experiencing. Not only is the camp free, but they provide a free breakfast, lunch, swimsuit, towel, and shoes for each camper. The eight week camp’s main focus is to develop the children’s literacy and math skills, but kids are also taken on field trips, play sports, and swim. The summer camp hires real teachers in order to give the kids the best learning experience possible. This is reflected in a 2014 analysis that showed that 95 percent of the campers retained or increased their math and literacy skills.

This article is eye opening because during the summer we forget what others who are less fortunate are experiencing. It is important that we recognize what men, women, and especially children are experiencing during this time of vacations and celebrating. For them, it is a time of stress and finding ways to keep their families and themselves in a safe and stable place. Although we don’t have programs like The Yellow Bus Summer Camp here in Alabama, places such as Pathways (205) 322-6854 offer services such as the Day Center which offers basic needs for homeless women and children. (look up other day programs or special summer programs for disadvantaged children)

Again, during this summer season remember the families that are experiencing homelessness and the struggles that they face. Additionally, volunteering, donating, and spreading the word about these issues are encouraged as well.

Sarah Goldman is a student at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. She spent several weeks during the summer volunteering with One Roof.

Responding to Your Support For Bobby

In response to this article on AL.com. Birmingham is a caring community. You’ve shown it time and time again, most recently through the outpouring of support for Bobby, who has been experiencing homelessness in Birmingham for years, when his picture was shared by Blaine Prickett through InstagramBham with a plea for donations to help Bobby with his mobility. One Roof, the coordinating agency for Birmingham’s homeless services, is both proud and grateful to serve a community that cares deeply for our most vulnerable neighbors.

photo by Blaine Prickett, orginally posted on AL.com

photo by Blaine Prickett, orginally posted on AL.com

Unfortunately, Bobby is just one of an estimated 1,138 people in the greater Birmingham area who will spend the night on the street or in emergency shelter. Some are veterans, some are families, some have disabilities, some live with serious mental illness. While each person experiencing homelessness in greater Birmingham has a distinct set of circumstances that has contributed to them experiencing homelessness, they all have two things in common: each of them lacks an adequate support system and each of them faces systemic barriers that keep them from safe, dignified, affordable housing. Unfortunately, food, clothing, and a little pocket change, while desperately needed, will not be enough to break down the barriers that keep people from housing.

A seemingly insurmountable barrier to housing is affordability. Low wage earners and people with fixed incomes, like SSI and SSDI, will have a hard time paying for housing without being severely burdened by the cost. One solution to this issue is funding for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund. The Alabama Housing Trust Fund would provide dedicated funding for creating, maintaining, and retaining thousands of units of affordable housing in Alabama. Birmingham’s children, veterans, and hardworking citizens need you to contact your representative to show your support for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund and to visit www.alabamahousingtrustfund.org to learn more.

Another way One Roof and our partners are working to break down barriers to affordable housing is through Project Homeless Connect. PHC, which will take place next on February 26, 2016, is a full day of services designed to break down barriers to housing. Individuals experiencing homelessness are given access to state IDs, medical care, vision screenings, counseling, legal help, and many other vital services. Your support will allow us to expand and improve the services available at PHC to make housing more accessible to those, like Bobby, who are most in need.

Thank you so much to Blaine Prickett, the curator of InstagramBham, for bringing Bobby’s story to light and to all those who have shown kindness and support to Bobby as a result. Your support and donations are so valuable to those experiencing homelessness in greater Birmingham and the agencies who serve them, but, if we want to end homelessness as we know it in Birmingham, we can’t stop there. Our neighbors, veterans, families, people with disabilities, all need your voice advocate for affordable housing in our community. They need you to donate resources to breaking down barriers to housing at through programs like Project Homeless Connect. They need you to support agencies who provide them with vital services day in and day out. Let’s use this momentum to make some real change, Birmingham, and take steps toward ending homelessness as we know it in central Alabama.

Compassionate response to defecation and urination in Caldwell Park

Written by Stacy Oliver, Community Outreach Coordinator at One Roof

One Roof would like for our community consider a slightly more proactive and compassionate response to the complaints of (possibly) homeless people defecating and urinating in Caldwell Park.


Article posted to AL.com on May 7, 2015 — click to read.

Yesterday,Adam Ganucheau posted an article to AL.com about Highland Park residents seeing an increase in the number of people they think are experiencing homelessness in their parks.  The chief complaint in the article is about these individuals publicly urinating and defecating in Highland’s Caldwell Park, with the added offense that residents’ dogs “are attracted to the waste and rolling in it.”

Generally speaking, watching (and smelling) anyone urinate or defecate in public is going to be offensiveand unpleasant.   However,having access tothe privacy of a toilet behind a locked door – which is ideal for most of us to be comfortable and to protect others from having to watch us eliminating bodily waste – is a privilege that not everyone has.  One particular quote stands out in this article and pretty poignantly highlights the sometimes subtle discrimination and sub-human treatment of people experiencing homelessness:

“It’s so unfortunate because we have such nice parks, but they’re attractive to everybody.”

In the article, the people experiencing homelessness whoare being seen in Caldwell Park are depicted as problems, criminals, and as the undeserving, undesirable “them.”  The initial reaction to seeing these people in the Highland Park neighborhood is that “You don’t belong here,” despite the fact that Caldwell Park is public.  While waste elimination in public is not appropriate, it is something that happens when there is literally nowhere else to go to perform thismost basic bodily function.  These complaints of public pooping are certainlyvalid, but they also draw attention to an even bigger issue that’s valuable for the community to consider.

Homelessness can be difficult to understand for anyone who’s lived their whole lives securely (and even not-so-securely) housed.  It can be difficult to understand why people stay homeless;  it can be baffling to hear that there are systemic, identifiable barriers that hold people back from living in their own home.

But it’s important to recognize that homelessness is something that a person experiences when they don’t have an adequate support system.  Support systems require different emotional, material, monetary, medical, and other resources in order to be successful.  For someone experiencing homelessness, they may be missing resources like healthy relationships with friends or family; adequate mental health or substance abuse resources needed to live independently; access to money for efficient transportation, healthcare, rent, or legal help; or even something as simple as a state ID.  Each of these hurdles is difficult to navigate, but any combination of two or more barriers becomes almost impossible to overcome without extensive assistance.

The article also mentions city ordinances that “prohibit sleeping or camping in the city’s parks after they close.”  Legally, there are many measures in place that criminalize the existence of a homeless person.  Where do you sleep when you don’t have a home, the shelters are full, you have no transportation, no money for a motel, and you need somewhere safe to lie down?  Where do you use the bathroom when most establishments require that you purchase something in order to use the facility?  Or what if your public restroom is a 45 minute walk from your current location?

While this may seem bleak, there are supportive and dignified ways to help people you see experiencing homelessness.  One Roof advocates for our amazing member agencies, several of which have fantastic street outreach teams.  If you see someone who you think might be homeless, a street outreach worker is trained to develop a rapport with that individual and put them in touch with shelters and other services in our community (typically by physically coming to the individual wherever they are in the community).  Even if a neighborhood resident is uncomfortable with seeing individuals that do need help and care, the Firehouse Shelter is a great call to make for anyone who appears to be street homeless; Jefferson, Blount, Shelby Mental Health Authority (JBS)does fantastic work with people with severe mental illnesses; and Project HOPE is an excellent contact for anyone who appears to be a homeless youth.   These outreach teams are made up of case managers who care deeply about offering comprehensive help and resources to people experiencing homelessness and helping them to live more empowered, dignified, and self-sufficient lives.

One Roof also suggests taking a look at the desperate need that exists in our state (and our country) for more affordable housing.  If the condition of simply being homeless and having to perform very basic human functions (like sleeping and defecating in public) is virtually illegal, shouldn’t people without a home have some sort of access to a home?   By finding ways to support organizations and efforts that can offer safe, decent, accessible, and affordable homes, we will certainly see a decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community (and more support for people who have chronic issues and who may be unable to advocate for themselves).

One way to do this is to learn more about the Alabama Housing Trust Fund(AHTF) and HB141.  The AHTF is a flexible source of money that can be used to maintain, retain, and create homes for people who live in poverty in our state and who are struggling to pay rent and still put food on the table.  The AHTF can also be used for homeless prevention purposes and help people  who may need support to live stably.

Another way is to be supportive of One Roof member agencies within our Continuum of Care.  Our compassionate network of service providers are skilled professionals committed to helping people get back on their feet and live more self-sufficient and healthier lives with a roof over their heads.

One Roof also provides education to the community about homelessness and systemic barriers to housing.  Get in touch with One Roof to find out more about Homelessness 101 or ask about our homelessness simulation.    For more information about ways to end homelessness in smart, dignified, and meaningful ways, feel free to contact our agency by e-mail (info@oneroofonline.org) or phone (205-254-8833).

One Roof is the homeless Continuum of Care for central Alabama, and is committed to equipping and empowering communities to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education and coordination of services.  More information can be found at www.oneroofonline.org.

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