The 11th annual Project Homeless Connect was a great success, serving 623 clients in just one day. This number is down from the 10th annual Project Homeless Connect of 642, indicative of the decrease in the homeless population in Birmingham. Each year, the goal is to help fewer and fewer homeless clients; the fewer clients helped indicates that fewer people are struggling with chronic homelessness in the Birmingham area.
Thanks to our partners at the City of Birmingham, One Roof, Hands on Birmingham and Faith Chapel Christian Center, homeless “guests” from all lifestyles accessed resources that would take them several months to obtain on their own. They needed haircuts, foot care, state IDs, counseling, and more— and a service provider was there to walk them through the appropriate steps for each.
“Once again Project Homeless Connect provided vital, life-changing services for the most vulnerable of our community,” said Michelle Ridley, Executive Director of One Roof. “Six hundred and twenty-three homeless guests were served by 67 service providers with the help of more than 800 volunteers. One Roof is proud to be a part of this true collaboration that benefits our homeless citizens.” One Roof is a leading agency for homeless services in Greater Birmingham, and a major organizer of this annual event.
Community volunteers called “Smiling Face Client Guides” to help the homeless clients navigate the many services offered. Once they complete a brief training session, volunteers are matched with a homeless client to help them navigate the busy auditorium floor. This ensures that they visit each service they need, and have a ‘smiling face’ to guide them through the day.
“Walking through the auditorium doors to see all the action on the floor is a little intimidating,” said community volunteer Jen Ivy. “It’s great to be there for our guests and give them assurance as they visit each service provider. There’s a lot of energy in the room, and providing that ‘smiling face’ is crucial to help each guest walk confidently through the event.”
The event would not be possible without the collaborative efforts of all organizers and service providers leading up to Project Homeless Connect. Faith Chapel Church organized 352 volunteers, combined with an additional 450 volunteers from the Birmingham area organized by Hands on Birmingham.
“I call this event the ‘goodness of Birmingham,’” said Benga Harrison, Executive Director of Hands on Birmingham. “You have every walk of life here—rich and poor; black, white and Hispanic; skilled and unskilled all coming together to help the homeless in our community access services all in one day under one roof.”
On any given night in 2017, 1092 persons experienced homelessness in the Birmingham area according to One Roof. While this number seems high, it is an 11.07% decrease from numbers reported in 2016. United Way and other agencies actively collaborate to eradicate homelessness in our community. With the continued support of these caring volunteers and dedicated agencies, that future is not far away.