Project Homeless Connect Volunteers Play Critical Role - United Way of Central Alabama

Project Homeless Connect Volunteers Play Critical Role

DSC_0968Project Homeless Connect, is a  great opportunity to help one of the most vulnerable populations in our community obtain basic needs most of us take for granted.

Volunteers are still needed to serve as “Smiling Faces to help those experiencing homelessness navigate the resources at the event, which include housing, medical services, legal aid, employment services, grooming services, state identification services and more.

Project Homeless Connect is a one-day event sponsored by many community organizations designed to provide those services in a one-stop format. Organizers expect to serve more than 750 members of the homeless community at this event, and organizers say that they will need about the same number of volunteers. In the ten years, PHC has served over homeless or near-homelesDSC_0687s individuals.

One Roof, a lead agency for homeless services in Greater Birmingham, is organizing the event in partnership with United Way of Central Alabama, the City of Birmingham, Hands on Birmingham and more than 60 government and community and governmentorganizations.

Many of the volunteers at Project Homeless Connect come year after year to give back. One such volunteer is Mauri Robinson, who has volunteered at PHC for four years. “I truly believe in the model that life is not important except the impact that it has on others,” Robinson said. “Too often I feel that we go through life and we don’t have enough impact on those we’ve been blessed to be around. I feel that giving back and serving is one of the things we’re called to do.”

Robinson said that programs like PHC are important because, despite economic growth in Birmingham, homelessness remains a problem.

DSC_0726“Homeless men and women can come [to Project Homeless Connect] and get services that usually take six months to a year to navigate,” Robinson said. “Volunteers can directly see their impact and how they can make Birmingham better in one short day.”

For clients like Ms. Well, PHC was the first step toward stable, dignified housing. “Hallelujah!” was all Ms. Wells could say at the end of PHC in February 2016. She was ecstatic to finally obtain a state ID. Ms. Wells, who was homeless at the time, had been unable to get a state ID because she feared she would be arrested due to unpaid tickets.  A municipal courtroom is part of each PHC event, and a judge was able to clear her record.  With her new ID, Ms. Wells was able to move into stable housing and is now employed.

Her success story is just one of many. Last year, partner agencies provided 1222 individual medical services, 71 state IDs, and 150 legal consults to over 600 clients.

Although chronic homelessness in Birmingham has decreased since 2005, there’s been an uptick in homelessness among youth under 25. This reduction could be because organizations are getting better at identifying young people who are experiencing homelessness since members of that population often don’t want to be found – they could be runaways, fear violence and distrust adults and agencies offering help.

Another population that service providers have been working hard to identify and help are homeless veterans. Organizations like United Way’s  Priority Veteran continue to work toward officially declaring an end to veteran homelessness, meaning that these agencies can confidently say that they’ve identified every veteran experiencing homelessness and have offered them permanent housing. It also means developing an efficient and effective system to ensure that any veteran’s homelessness is brief and rare.

Another loyal volunteer at PHC  is Cassidy Bonner, who has volunteered at PHC for six years. Bonner said that Smiling Faces volunteers are critical to helping guide clients through the potentially confusing process, which can often take months or years to obtain outside of the event.

“The resources are there, but navigating the system can be intimidating, and for some, it can be confusing,” Bonner said. “As a client guide, it feels great to help them get the services they need.”

Robinson encourages anyone who might be interested in volunteering to do so. “It’s one of the great volunteering opportunities in our city,” Robinson said.

Individuals and groups can find out more about the event and register to volunteer at handsonbirmingham.org/PHC/.