Cold Weather Items, Collaboration, and How We Can Really Help End Homelessness

Cold weather clothing items are vital, especially as the beautiful Birmingham fall turns into a bitter Birmingham winter. Birmingham is grateful for citizens that recognize that Birmingham’s homeless citizens must have cold weather clothing to keep from dying on the streets. However, wool socks will not end homelessness. Viewers of a recent WIAT 10 pm news broadcast saw a story about a motivated young woman who is, as they put it, “taking the fight [to end homelessness] into her own hands,” by collecting cold weather items and hygiene products to distribute to those experiencing homelessness. There is no doubt that this young woman is trying to do good things. Clearly she cares very much about Birmingham’s most vulnerable citizens, and One Roof is hugely grateful to every single person who wants to take action to end homelessness. However, wool socks will not end homelessness.

This passionate young woman said that her ultimate goal is to provide what Birmingham doesn’t have – a place for homeless citizens to get the things they need, a warm bed and a place to sleep. One Roof would like to formally invite this young woman and all concerned citizens, to get involved with the large community of individuals and agencies working 365 days a year to provide a safe, warm place to sleep, hot nourishing food to eat, and the necessary hygiene items that housed people take for granted. Check out the websites of Salvation Army, Firehouse Shelter, First Light and Pathways, just to name a few, or if you want to be more hands on, attend One Roof meetings and get to know 25, 30 or even more agencies in our area who are doing this work.

The television piece noted that this caring woman wants to provide ID for Birmingham’s homeless citizens. Lack of ID is a huge barrier for members of the homeless community. Fortunately, agencies are already working hard to meet this need. One Roof provides homeless citizens with a specialized ID to help clients access homeless services. Project ID, a program available through Highlands United Methodist Church, helps homeless clients obtain State Identification. Guests of Project Homeless Connect, an annual Spring collaboration between the City of Birmingham, United Way and One Roof, have the opportunity to get State Identification. Project Homeless Connect also provides the legal assistance that some homeless people need before they can access that State ID. The Birmingham Bar Volunteer Lawyer Program holds free legal clinics twice monthly in area homeless agencies with the sole purpose of addressing the legal problems that keep some homeless people from getting the ID they need.  Since WIAT has piqued the community’s interest in homelessness by covering some of the grassroots to end it, we would like to suggest that now would be a fantastic time to benefit the community by following up about more of the wonderful services like these offered in our community.

Homelessness is complex:  homelessness consists of personal tragedies like divorce or death of a loved one; disabling conditions like mental illness, substance abuse or physical disabilities; societal problems like lack of safe, decent affordable housing or lack of accessible mental and medical health care. Homelessness is more than what you see, and because many people don’t truly understand what makes a person homeless and what keeps him or her in homelessness, misinformation is often spread about helping a person get out of homelessness. Because homelessness is complex, no one person can end homelessness. Because homelessness is complex, no one agency can end homelessness. Service providers, shelters, affordable housing developers, hospitals, mental health services, educational systems, the faith community, veterans representatives, our government and the phenomenal community of caring, motivated, action oriented people must all work together to end homelessness. The good news is that this is already happening. Chronic homelessness in greater Birmingham would not have decreased 63% since 2005 if not for the agencies who are already working together to make it happen. We would not have had as few as 11 veterans on the street at the start of 2015 if this were not already happening.

If the members of our community want to see homelessness ended in our community, if they want to take this matter into their own hands, so to speak, they are all hereby invited to join hands with the agencies who are working effectively and strategically to end homelessness.  Holding a drive for cold weather clothing items is a great first step, but first calling the shelters to see what items are needed most will make drives much more effective. Equally as important is the need for community citizens to advocate for safe, decent housing that is affordable for everyone. After all, it does very little good to give the same person a coat year after year after year if we, as a community, fail to even consider creating housing for that person.

One Roof is very aware that calling your representative on the phone to ask for legislation that addresses the severe lack of safe, decent and affordable housing in our community doesn’t feel as good as seeing someone smile when you give them a much-needed blanket. However, if all the generous people of Greater Birmingham who donate warm clothing would also donate their time and their voice to advocacy, the need for that blanket would diminish significantly. National Homeless Awareness Week is November 15 – 21 and One Roof has partnered with a home-grown, nationally and internationally recognized celebrity to raise awareness of homelessness solutions in our own community. If you really want to know how you can help end homelessness, stay tuned to One Roof’s website and Facebook page. We shared some exciting news yesterday morning and we will be sharing valuable information in the coming weeks.

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.

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