End Homelessness with Homes

Learn how to support the Alabama Housing Trust Fund.

The most realistic, long-term way to end homelessness in central Alabama is to provide more safe, decent, accessible, and affordable homes where hardworking Alabamians, children, veterans, and people with disabilities can live.  

The Alabama Housing Trust Fund is a flexible source of funding that can be used to maintain, retain, and create homes for Alabamians with the greatest need and who are most vulnerable to losing their homes.   Take a look at this infographic from the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama about the economic impact of the AHTF: 

You can also take a look at the following information (including a form letter) for how you can help end homelessnesss through the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF).

There is a devastating shortage of safe, decent, accessible, and affordable housing in our community.  Hardworking Alabamians have an incredibly difficult time being able to afford rent AND put food on the table. AHTF will offer the dignified, compassionate, and cost-efficient response of giving vulnerable Alabamians a place to call home rather than live on the streets.

To learn more, visit the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama’s  or check out their website dedicated to the AHTF

Project Homeless Connect 2015

Project Homeless Connect, an annual event co-chaired by One Roof, the City of Birmingham, Hands On Birmingham, and the United Way of Central Alabama, is returning to Boutwell Auditorium on Saturday, April 11th, for its 8th year. Project Homeless Connect empowers Birmingham’s homeless citizens by bringing together over 60 area nonprofits to provide as many necessary services as possible in one location on one day. One Roof, the lead agency for central Alabama’s homeless Continuum of Care, coordinates Project Homeless Connect every spring as a way to remove barriers that keep homeless individuals from obtaining safe, decent, affordable housing. Services offered at Project Homeless Connect include, but are not limited to, vision screenings, glasses, legal services, physicals, and state ID cards. In 2014, agencies at PHC served 921 clients, issued 149 state IDs, and  performed 182 medical screenings, among many other services.

phc medsThe vital services offered at PHC could not be accomplished without the help of volunteers. Around 1,000 volunteers are needed to serve as Smiling Faces Client Guides. Client Guides are a crucial part of engaging guests and making them feel welcome. After signing in, Client Guides will go through a 10-15 minute orientation and are paired with a client. These volunteers will make sure the client has guidance and help in obtaining all the services they need that day. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and should be able to volunteer 4.5 hours of their time. Volunteers not affiliated with a specific agency should wear a red t-shirt. Hands On Birmingham organizes volunteers at PHC, and online registration can be found here.

A new concern for this year’s Project Homeless Connect is the rising cost of state IDs, which are provided to homeless individuals at Project Homeless Connect. Where state IDs used to cost $20 each, the price has risen to nearly $40.00.

id fundraising post “Access to a state ID is critical for folks experiencing homelessness,” says Michelle Farley, One Roof’s Executive Director.  “Without a state ID, it is nearly impossible to have access to health care, a bank account, or to apply for employment or housing.” One Roof is requesting assistance from the community to make sure this precious resource can still be offered at Project Homeless Connect.  You can make access to this crucial service possible for homeless individuals by donating to One Roof to sponsor IDs.

For more information about Project Homeless Connect, click here.

Unsexy, Unglamorous Legal Needs Deserve More Pro Bono Attention

The Legal Services area at Project Homeless Connect 2014.

One Roof has identified legal issues as being a common threat to the housing status of many of our clients — or else, legal issues have perpetuated, caused, or resulted from homelessness.  The tie between homelessness and involvement in the criminal justice system is undeniable, and quite often systemic and unjust.  

Every year, one of the most utilized services at our annual event, Project Homeless Connect, is legal services.  We are pleased to say that because of the meaningful, life-changing  services (but especially legal services) that we offer at Project Homeless Connect, Birmingham now has its very own homeless court.  This is something that could not have resulted without seeing the very real need for this resource in our community through Project Homeless Connect, nor without seeing the drastic positive impact that access to quality legal services has had on the ability of our clients to get into their own home. 

In the past year, One Roof has also aided in the reentry process for individuals with a disability who are being released from prison, and who, upon release, will have nowhere else to go.  In the past year, we have started SOAR for Reentry, which aids disabled inmates in obtaining disability benefits so that they will not become homeless upon their release.  With SSI or SSDI benefits for this overlooked population, we know that we can expect to see persons released from prison leading healthier, more independent lives, and hopefully lower recidivism rates.

We wanted to share this blog post with you, written by Lisa Borden, who annually has coordinated the attorneys who assist our clients at Project Homeless Connect, and is responsible for coordinating a regular homeless court (a court and appeals process specifically to aid people whose charges keep them from getting into housing).   We appreciate Ms. Borden’s work, and this is a fantastic blog piece about that relationship between the criminal justice system and homelessness.  

Unsexy, Unglamorous Legal Needs Deserve More Pro Bono Attention

by Lisa Borden

During the time I have been managing Baker Donelson’s pro bono programs, I’ve been impressed and gratified to see lawyers and bar associations and groups across the country step up en masse to tackle some very important legal issues. The death penalty is an issue that has received a great deal of attention for many years, and more recently the focus on immigration has increased dramatically. Civil rights cases, including issues like marriage equality, voting rights and human trafficking have made the news, and helping veterans is a mainstay. I’ve gotten involved in many of these issues myself, especially death penalty cases. 

But I find myself increasingly frustrated. Why? Because in nearly a decade of working on a daily basis with low income communities – homeless people, former inmates, people in rehab, but also just generally what we lawyers think of as indigent populations – I have come to realize that there’s a gigantic, over-arching problem that never gets much organized attention. Low income communities are plagued with unresolved minor criminal or quasi-criminal matters, like a persistent low grade fever that never quite clears up and saps their energy every day. Please don’t misunderstand – low income people commit no more petty crimes and traffic offenses than do people with resources. Lord knows they are charged more, though, and once charged they lack all the tools the rest of us have to clear things up. So they drag the charges and their consequences around interminably, a dead weight that slowly sinks them. 

No lawyer to make it go away or give you good advice?  Just plead guilty like everyone in the courtroom says, and be branded a petty criminal forever. Can’t pay the fine right now? Go on “probation,” add a monthly fee for being poor, and then get hounded for money every week. Oh, and we’ll suspend your driver’s license until you finally pay it off (plus reinstatement fee). Miss a payment or two? Can’t report to the fake probation office every time it is demanded because you have no transportation, no child care, or can’t get off work again for fear of losing your minimum wage job? Here’s a warrant for your arrest.

People’s lives are literally being ruined every day by these legal issues, many of which aren’t even that complicated. So why is it that there’s no massive, coordinated push by lawyers, no community of non-profits, to help? Best I can figure, it’s because of a lack of public understanding, and therefore public sympathy, for the victims of this particular plague. If the public does not care, or thinks the victims are to blame for their own troubles, then there is no political or PR upside to any broad effort to address the issue. The funding provided by Congress to the Legal Services Corporation comes with all kinds of strings, including restricting LSC funded organizations to working only on certain types of civil cases. Although there is a welcome new focus on public defenders, thanks largely to the wonderful Gideon’s Promise, there usually are no public defenders appointed to represent people who are charged with traffic offenses or petty misdemeanors that carry (in theory) no threat of jail time. Most private criminal defense attorneys have no interest in, or can’t afford to, deal with these kinds of cases.  And overall, law firm lawyers and state and local bar associations are just not getting excited about this problem. It’s not sexy, and it doesn’t involve complex or high profile litigation. Worse, it involves helping people that the general public regards as undeserving criminals. Making their problems a cause with which we’re identified would be bad for business. It would play into and exacerbate the public’s already dubious view of lawyers. We want pro bono to make them like us better, right? 

Recently, the issue of criminal justice debt has caught on a bit. Some nonprofits and law firms have become interested in handling the civil litigation needed to challenge some of the atrocious and unconstitutional practices being used in many jurisdictions. But somehow, someone has to figure out how to make the crushing burden on the individual caught up in the machinery of petty offenses a cause célèbre. People who have no resources need to show up for court and find that there is someone there to help them. People who have been struggling under this burden for years need to be able to find help to get fines remitted and warrants recalled. There are some real heroes out there, lawyers who expend valuable time and effort coming to the rescue of one person at a time.  But there aren’t nearly enough.  I hope that more lawyers, bar associations and nonprofit organizations will see fit to begin addressing the immediate problem of the individuals whose daily existence is being made so difficult. The arc of moral litigation is long, and many people simply can’t wait for it to bend toward justice. 

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