Homelessness

Help End Homelessness: Volunteer at Project Homeless Connect

Spring is almost here; our neighborhoods are full of jonquils and the red bud trees are coming alive. I think it is safe to say that there will be only a few more days that require layers of wool coats and down jackets.

We have had a rough winter. While Snowmageddon and the Wintry Mix are less-than-pleasant recollections for anyone who spent multiple hours trapped on the roads in January, there is much to be said for the touching memory of our community pulling together to tow friends, neighbors and complete strangers from ditches; of exhausted teachers staying in inaccessible schools to keep the iced-in students safe; and of the outpouring of clothing, food, blankets, hygiene items and love for citizens in our City’s warming center at the Boutwell Auditorium.  Yes, I said “love.” Members of our community who have never met someone experiencing homelessness were moved by the plight of Birmingham citizens with no heat, no water and no bed to call their own.

The various churches, civic groups, nonprofits and individuals felt like the frigid temperatures of Snowmageddon constituted a crisis; they all felt that they MUST do something about the problem. That feeling of urgency, that recognition of a crisis, spurred them to volunteer and to donate, to step outside of themselves to help others. I am grateful to live in a community that has this kind of concern and love for all citizens, including those experiencing homelessness. However, I wonder what we could do if we didn’t wait for a crisis?

What would happen if all of the faith-based organizations, civic groups, nonprofits and individuals pooled resources to work on specific issues that contribute to homelessness, to solve problems that make people homeless, and to eliminate barriers that keep them homeless? Does it sound too good to be true that people of all faiths, races and socio-economic levels could play well together?  That happened with the Warming Station, and that was primarily about homelessness. Project Homeless Connect is coming up on April 5th, and it is 100% about homelessness, and is a model of what happens when people collaborate to address homelessness.

Project Homeless Connect is a one day annual event designed to provide services to people in homelessness – services that a person needs to get out of homelessness. This event is a partnership between the City of Birmingham, One Roof, Hands On Birmingham and United Way, but there are more than 65 agencies, businesses and organizations that collaborate to make the event successful. There are event leaders, but everyone works together with one plan and with one goal – – provide what homeless people need to get themselves permanently out of homelessness. All of the organizers pool their resources, make plans collaboratively, and work shoulder-to-shoulder the day of the event to make Project Homeless Connect successful.

We have seen our community’s amazing response to the 60+ hours of below-freezing weather. What could happen if the community worked collaboratively to pool resources, to make collaborative plans, and to work shoulder-to-shoulder to prevent the need for a Warming Station? If you would like to see a one-day answer to this question, volunteer to work at Project Homeless Connect by signing up at Hands On Birmingham to be a Smiling Face on April 5, 2014. If you are moved, fascinated and enlightened by what you experience at PHC on April 5, 2014, consider getting involved with One Roof, the agency that works daily to bring all the right resources, all the right people and all the right answers to our community to fulfill our mission of equipping and empowering our community to end homelessness through advocacy, education and coordination of services.

SnowMageddon was a crisis. Our community responded. The 1,469 people homeless on any given night in our area constitute a crisis. Help One Roof respond to homelessness by volunteering at Project Homeless Connect on April 5, 2014.

 

Michelle Farley is the Executive Director of One Roof. 

 

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.

SOAR

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.

 

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