2014 in Review: Huntsville homeless community sees highs and lows, hopeful for change in 2015

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - This year has been a roller coaster for the homeless of Huntsville, with highs and lows, good and bad.

One local advocate is hoping for big things out of 2015, including real working solutions to issues the homeless face.

Watching a homeless person break apart a wooden pallet is a high point of 2014 for Huntsville's homeless.  It's a sign of empowerment.  Homeless people are learning how to create things to create opportunity for themselves, not long after all they had to call home was taken away.

"The low point in the year for the homeless was the way in which Tent City was closed," said Clete Wetli, Executive Director of First Stop Day Center for the Homeless. "I think we could have done a better job of getting people into shelter and into emergency or transitional housing."

Wetli is convinced the homeless population doubled from last year.

"We've seen a real uptick in our homeless population," said Wetli.  "And particularly with single women and children."

He said his case managers work with 270 people.  Another 350 others are on a waiting list for help.

Still, Wetli is encouraged about the situation, saying city leaders are now trying to change things.

"Over the next year, we're going to start implementing some real solutions that will make a difference here in Huntsville," said Wetli.

He couldn't share details yet, but insists the ideas will address actual needs of the homeless, instead of what some perceive to be their problems, such as tiny homes.   Volunteers built these homes in November to be used as housing for the homeless. However, many questions still surround the effort, including where the homes would be placed.

"The issue that our homeless population has isn't so much housing, believe it or not, it deals with case management," Wetli insisted.  "Many folks have substance abuse issues, they have issues with domestic violence, they have criminal backgrounds."

And with classes offered in their new portable, Wetli is confident 2015 will be the year of change for the homeless.

He plans to concentrate on getting his clients employment in 2015.

First Stop does not turn away anyone, no matter their addictions or problems.

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