On a balmy Saturday morning February 27, more than 1,000 people gathered outside the Boutwell Auditorium all in the name of service, some to provide service and some to receive service. Project Homeless Connect 2016 brought out hundreds of homeless or near homeless in Jefferson County with dreams to improve their situation in life and move closer to self sufficiency.
Project Homeless Connect is a collaborative community service effort between Hands On Birmingham, United Way of Central Alabama, One Roof and the City of Birmingham that connects homeless or near homeless individuals and families to agencies and services that range from health and dental care to housing. It’s a one stop shop to link participants with difficult to obtain services in a dignified setting.
“This year, One Roof and our partners served over 600 clients, wiping away years of legal issues, providing much-needed medical services, providing state IDs, and much more, which will make housing more accessible to those currently experiencing homelessness,” said Courtney Stinson, One Roof Community Outreach Coordinator.
Each client was paired with a volunteer, known as a Smiling Faces guide, to help them navigate the maze of the Boutwell.
For Al Points, a homeless client, his main objective was to obtain identification, but what he encountered on his was an experience he never expected. “These people (Smiling Faces guide) are angels,” said Points. “There are a lot of grateful people here and a lot of people wanting to give out blessings.”
The guides and clients spent much of their day together, but as clients completed their desired stations, the guides moved out to bring in more clients. As the day wore on, many of the services extended beyond the four walls of the Boutwell.
“We’ve sent a lot of people over to the Equal Access Birmingham to receive ongoing medical care and Cooper Green,” Dana Mitchell, Nurse Practitioner at University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Each client had their own objective to improve their situation. Some wanted identification. Others needed food stamps. However, the most consistently populated stations were legal and medical. On the other hand, many of the clients were without adequate housing. And while housing services had a presence at PHC, it remains a huge obstacle for the clients.
Project Homeless Connect 2016 completed the day servicing 565 clients, while leaning into next year, PHC’s 10th anniversary, to service even less clients with hopes that the homeless population would continue to dwindle.
“This is one of the best things that happens in the city and I’m so thankful that United Way is involved,” said Michael German, Director of Alabama Housing and Urban Development and United Way board member.
At the end of the day clients and volunteers walked away with a smile on their faces, the clients because they that somebody out there cares and the volunteers because they spent the day impacting someone else’s life in a meaningful way.
United Way of Central Alabama Inc. supports health and human service programs and agencies that provide solutions for the most important needs in the community. Its business is to improve lives and community conditions by building and mobilizing resources.