Help End Homelessness:  Community Awareness, Coordination, and Service

Help End Homelessness:  Community Awareness, Coordination, and Service

IMG_1022by John McGregor

Last fall, when I began my AmeriCorps term of service with One Roof, I was introduced to our three-tiered approach for preventing and ending homelessness: advocacy, education, and coordination of services. I helped coordinate two of One Roof’s major annual events, Point-in-Time and Project Homeless Connect, and saw the work that One Roof does daily to assist people in housing crisis with finding the service providers most appropriate for them. Like most people who have never worked with people experiencing homelessness, I was in need of education about the causes of homelessness and what can be done to prevent and end homelessness. Right now I am finishing up my year of service by assisting the Street Outreach Program (STOP) at the Firehouse Shelter, a One Roof member agency that serves men experiencing homelessness. Much of what I’ve learned this year about homelessness and poverty within our community has been fully illuminated by spending time with the Street Outreach Team on the streets of Birmingham and at The Firehouse Shelter.

STOP Program Coordinator (and One Roof board member) Nicole Arlain works to connect those living on the street with the programs at Firehouse and with community resources throughout Jefferson County. Along with Dena Dickerson, the only other staff member working full time on street outreach, Nicole visits places most service providers cannot. The path to guiding those living on the street in Birmingham to stable housing often begins under a bridge or in an abandoned building, where Street Outreach visits build trust and relationships in order to assist those that are in need. This is a huge task when you consider that Firehouse is one of the only agencies actively doing street outreach in Birmingham.

Nicole and Dena understand something that One Roof staff members have stressed to me since my service began: a major barrier to the success of agency programs is too often a lack of awareness about community resources. Homelessness can only be ended through a coordinated community effort involving not only service providers, but businesses, churches, and individual community members as well. Businesses only a few blocks from the shelter may not be aware that contacting STOP is a more sustainable alternative to having the police arrest someone they feel is disrupting their business. Locking someone up in an overcrowded jail for living on the street is not sustainable because it perpetuates homelessness and poverty and wastes valuable community resources. STOP gives clients the guidance and care that will empower them to stay off the street permanently. But despite all the direct efforts of program staff at Firehouse and the coordination efforts at One Roof, people will continue to fall through the cracks if the community is not aware that these agencies and services exist.

Over the past year of serving as an Americorps member with One Roof and Firehouse, I have had the opportunity to see the full scope of what solving homelessness looks like in Birmingham.  Serving with the Firehouse Shelter has given me a richer perspective on my service with One Roof.  Partnerships between direct service agencies like Firehouse and coordinating agencies like One Roof empower patient, hardworking people to make lasting changes for those in need; changes that, in some cases, may literally save someone’s life. In my service with both agencies, I have been able to see the entire journey it takes for someone to leave homelessness — from a client taking their first step off the street by spending a night in emergency shelter, to moving into Firehouse’s transitional housing, to individuals who have progressed to living in their own homes and returning to the Firehouse as an employee or volunteer.

Please help One Roof and all of its agencies by taking time to learn and spread the word about programs like STOP.  Help Firehouse empower people to get off the streets by raising awareness of their programs and services. One Roof and our member agencies are dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness in central Alabama through advocacy, education, and the coordination of services. Ending homelessness is a community effort and we cannot do this without you. Educate yourself and educate your fellow community members about the agencies and services in our community. Help us end homelessness.

 

John McGregor is an AmeriCorps member serving at One Roof as the Communications & Community Outreach Assistant and is completing his year of service with the Firehouse Shelter’s Street Outreach team. He served with the Marine Corps Reserve Unit in Bessemer from 2004-2010 and deployed twice to Iraq.

 

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