Best Practices to Prevent and End Homelessness

In April 2013, John Andrew Young, a current Master of Public Health student at UAB, came to One Roof in search of a summer internship. John Andrew has a passion for policy and he wanted to help us achieve our mission by researching ways to effect positive and sustainable change for folks experiencing homelessness in our area. Under the direction of Michelle Farley, Executive Director of One Roof, and Valerie Bouriche, Administrative Coordinator of One Roof, John Andrew began a deeply involved project, researching and documenting nation- and world-wide best practices for preventing and ending homelessness.

At February’s monthly membership meeting, nearly a year after he began his project, John Andrew presented his research to our member agencies and we had a lively and thoughtful discussion about ways to maximize our resources to best serve folks experiencing homelessness in our area. We cannot thank John Andrew enough for his time, energy, and dedication to this project.

As you review these practices, we hope that you see how each is related to One Roof’s mission to prevent and end homelessness in our community. We understand that preventing and ending homelessness is different for each client–that each person experiencing homelessness in our area has an individual and complex set of circumstances that must be taken into account so that they receive the best and most appropriate care and services.

As recent Point in Time data indicates, the three largest subpopulations of folks experiencing homelessness in our area are folks who are chronically homeless, folks living with serious mental illnesses, and folks who chronically abuse substances. John Andrew’s presentation shows that many of the practices he researched are a proven method for preventing and ending homelessness for these particular groups in our country and other countries. We believe that these practices, while not appropriate for all clients or all service providers, can help eliminate barriers to housing for clients who are chronically homeless, severely mentally ill, or chronic substance abusers. Here are a few of these promising practices:

Housing First

Clients experiencing homelessness are quickly placed into a safe, decent, and affordable home, bypassing emergency shelters and transitional housing programs. This allows a client who was previously unstable to quickly gain stability. Clients are provided access to various services (mental health counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, healthcare, etc), but these services are not required. The main goal is taking vulnerable persons off the street and placing them into a safe, stable home. We believe that stability is paramount to personal growth and self-care. Stability allows clients to focus on underlying issues at the root of their prolonged instability.


SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery (SOAR) is a national best practice aimed to increase SSI/SSDI benefits for persons living with a disabling condition and experiencing homelessness. These benefits provide a stable income, reduce economic insecurity for those who have a disabling condition and are unable to work, and allow access to health insurance and certain types of permanent housing. This practice also provides an immediate source of income for clients living with a disabling condition and reentering society after incarceration. Utilization of this practice prevents and ends homelessness for clients living with disabling conditions and experiencing homelessness / at-risk for experiencing homelessness. We believe that persons living with disabilities deserve stability and One Roof currently has a SOAR Specialist, Keyana Lewis, who assists clients applying for SSI/SSDI benefits. To read more about our SOAR program, click here.

Harm Reduction

Simply put, this practice reduces harm for clients who abuse substances. When a service provider practices harm reduction, clients are accepted as they are when they show up for services and they don’t have to fear expulsion due to their substance abuse. If a client shows up to a shelter or housing provider and is denied entry because they are under the influence, they may be forced to stay on the street. Staying on the street is unsafe for a person under the influence because they are more vulnerable and less able to perceive extreme temperatures and weather conditions. With a safe and warm place to sleep, potential harm is significantly reduced. Clients can be connected with appropriate supportive services which allow them to gain stability, minimize unhealthy outcomes due to their substance abuse, and work on underlying issues which might be causing them to abuse substances.

To read more about these practices and others, be sure to check out John Andrew’s presentation. One Roof is deeply committed to preventing and ending homelessness in our area through advocacy, education, and the coordination of services. While these practices may not be the solution for all clients or all housing providers, John Andrew’s research shows that these practices can allows us to successfully and strategically prevent and end homelessness; increase opportunities for housing, economic, and employment stability for community members; plan for more efficient use of community resources; and build a stronger community. We believe that all community members deserve safety, stability, and a decent and affordable home. To support One Roof’s efforts, click here.


Josh Helms is an AmeriCorps member serving at One Roof as the Capacity Building Assistant.


Why Point in Time is Important

I was recently hired as the Community Outreach Coordinator for One Roof, whose mission is to equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and coordination of services.  This is a mission that is permanently imprinted on my heart and mind and that I learned through two years of serving as an AmeriCorps member at One Roof through the YW’s AmeriCorps program.

As an AmeriCorps member I was responsible for coordinating Point-in-Time, an annual mini-census of everyone in our area currently impacted by homelessness.  I first heard about Point-in-Time during my interview for my AmeriCorps position with One Roof two and a half years ago.  The description of the event was odd to me – why do we count people who are homeless?  At the time, I was unfamiliar with the complexities of homelessness.   But when I experienced Point-in-Time for the first time, it became clear to me why this event is so very, very important to our community.

Point-in-Time, or PIT, takes place nationally in most communities across the United States.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires every community that receives funding to conduct a count like this.  The data collected during PIT has very practical uses.  It can be used to leverage funding for homeless and homeless prevention services because it documents need.   PIT data can be used to understand trends in homelessness, especially homelessness in specific geographic locations. We know that we can’t prevent and end homelessness in our area if we don’t understand it first.  Simply put, PIT helps us understand who is homeless, why they’re homeless, what services are missing, and what solutions can be made for a future where homelessness is a rare occurrence.

PIT data helps us come up with innovative solutions that serve the most people the most effectively.   It’s a tool for making Birmingham and the rest of central Alabama a healthier place to live, where the most vulnerable community members have somewhere to turn and where agencies are taking educated, thoughtful steps to empower people to improve their lives.  PIT is an event that educates.  It’s an event that engages so many members of our community and is truly a collaborative effort to lift up and honor the experiences of people who are currently homeless.

In 2013, a little over 100 volunteers helped us to find and interview anyone sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation – a population made up of domestic violence survivors, veterans, youth, families, and other people in crisis.  PIT gives community members the opportunity to reach out to someone experiencing homelessness in a way that doesn’t shy away from the truth of their situation.

While the data itself is important, what has become even more important to me is the fact that PIT is essentially a collection of interviews.  Each survey gives visibility and acknowledgement to the struggle that someone is currently facing in our community; and perhaps, more importantly, it highlights what that person needs to gain safe, decent, accessible, and affordable housing.   Each piece of paper demonstrates the desire of a community to reach out and tell someone who is experiencing homelessness, “You matter.  You count.”

This year, more than 120 volunteers will assist us with conducting our Point-in-Time interviews from 6:00 PM on January 22 until 5:59 PM on January 23.  We are very thankful for all the community members who have reached out to conduct interviews this year, including AmeriCorps members serving in the YWCA’s Building Communities, Bettering Lives program.  Although we have closed registration for this year’s Point-in-Time count, you can visit our blog for a list of reasons why you might want to join us for Point-in-Time in the future.  For anyone who would like to be involved with One Roof, we invite you to participate and learn more about our upcoming events, Cardboard Connect and Project Homeless Connect, or like us on Facebook.


Stacy Oliver is the Community Outreach Coordinator for One Roof and a former AmeriCorps member with the YWCA of Central Alabama’s Building Communities, Bettering Lives program.  

One Roof’s Accomplishments and Upcoming Projects

As many of you know, One Roof’s mission is equipping and empowering our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and coordination of services. This year, One Roof has resolved to further our mission by publicizing our accomplishments and increasing awareness of our goals and upcoming projects.

2013 was a busy year for One Roof and we’re quite proud of what we accomplished:

  • We successfully competed for and secured the nearly $9 million Continuum of Care grant that funds many of the supportive housing programs in our area, equipping agencies in central Alabama to prevent and end homelessness. Since 2005, we have seen a nearly 40% reduction in people experiencing homelessness on any given night due to housing initiatives like the supportive housing projects funded through the Continuum of Care grant.
  • In addition to our regularly scheduled Homelessness 101 workshops, we offered a Transgender 101 workshop to answer the call of case workers, social workers, and other representatives from our member agencies who’ve repeatedly expressed that they want to know more about the issues facing transgender individuals experiencing homelessness. To read more about this workshop and One Roof’s efforts to ensure safe spaces for all persons experiencing homelessness in our area, click here.
  • We partnered with YouthServe to launch Birmingham’s first ever Cardboard Connect.  This overnight event raised young people’s awareness of homelessness in Birmingham and benefitted Project Homeless Connect. Youth who attended played awareness games, gained knowledge of the barriers to housing stability, learned about the good work of homeless service providers in Birmingham, collected hygiene products to give at Project Homeless Connect, and were empowered to share this experience with their community. Be sure to like us on Facebook and check out photos from this event.
  • We collaborated with the City of Birmingham, Hands on Birmingham, and the United Way of Central Alabama for our city’s 6th annual Project Homeless Connect. In 2013, PHC provided more than 780 clients with legal, medical, vision, dental, state ID, Social Security card, and other services, all free of charge. Many of our guests at PHC were clients of member agencies, and we are proud that we can provide this service that takes place on one day, in one place, to make permanent housing attainable for so many in our area.
  • We improved how we conduct Point in Time, our annual census of persons experiencing homelessness in our area. We performed a complete grid search of the downtown area, visiting every single street on the Northside and Southside. We also expanded into neighborhoods not previously covered by the Point in Time survey. This work allowed us to better understand our homeless population and the information gathered will help us better serve persons experiencing homelessness in our area.
  • We partnered with students from UAB’s Inter-professional Global Health Service Learning program to pilot a vulnerability survey in our emergency shelters: Firehouse, First Light, and Salvation Army. We surveyed over 150 persons seeking emergency shelter about physical and mental health conditions. The information we gathered will allow us to better identify gaps in services and better serve those experiencing homelessness in our area.

One Roof has planned some very exciting goals and projects to help us further our mission in 2014:

  • In this year’s Point-in-Time Count (January 22-23, 2014), we will incorporate questions related to medical vulnerability that will help us to better understand and plan for the health needs of those experiencing homelessness in our community. We’ll also pass out I Count! stickers to show persons experiencing homelessness in our area that they are seen and heard, that their experiences matter and we are working to better serve them. The stickers will help make the survey a more positive experience, minimizing repeated interviews and reducing duplication of data. Learn more about this event and volunteer here.
  • We will continue our collaboration with YouthServe, the City of Birmingham, HandsOn Birmingham, and the United Way to host our 2nd annual Cardboard Connect (March 8-9, 2014) and our 7th annual Project Homeless Connect (April 5, 2014).
  • One Roof will partner with the Alabama Department of Corrections to incorporate the SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery) principles in the prison re-entry process. We are confident that this effort can help to prevent homelessness after release and reduce recidivism for those inmates that become participants with One Roof’s SOAR program. In our 2013 Point in Time count, we found that 86 of 1,259 homeless individuals in our area have a disability and reported recent incarceration. Of those 86, 36 (42%) became homeless within one week of their release, and 48 (60%) became homeless within six months. Our efforts will lessen these numbers and prevent and end homelessness for an entire subpopulation.
  • We will complete a set of Continuum of Care Policies and Procedures. Developing CoC Policies and Procedures will improve the utilization of best practices, allow One Roof to practice utmost transparency in everything we do as a CoC, and give us a governing document that assures our funders that we use their money to the best benefit of the client.

We at One Roof have an exciting and busy year ahead of us. Please consider making a donation here to support our efforts to prevent and end homelessness in our area, and be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and keep up with our blog.

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