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.

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