Help in Madison County for families in need of protection from cold weather

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)– Huntsville homeless advocates want families in trouble or fearing for their safety in the cold weather to know there is help available.

But the problem is that if we’re talking about families of more than four, it may be a little more difficult to find it.

Area warming centers and homeless shelters don’t always have the room, or supplies, to care for children. And some families may be separated if they are able to stay there, per shelter regulations about mixing genders or age groups.

“A husband, wife, and kids are often separated because there’s not a whole lot of units that will hold the whole family,” summarized Leneise Arnold, Director of the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless.

Families in need of utility assistance can call the Community Action Energy Assistance line at 888-528-1606.

Many groups, including the city of Huntsville’s Community Development Department and the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, also provide transportation to shelters.

The NACH also makes referrals for people in need and finds ways to secure hotel vouchers/rooms so larger families can stay together.

The latter gets expensive, and the NACH requires faith-based and community donations to meet the need.

“It’s going to average around $150 dollars a night for us to be able to house a family of over 4 individuals for one night [in a hotel],” said Arnold.

She said that’s the case because larger families require more than room, because of hotel room occupancy requirements.

“Then, that would basically deplete our funds to be able to care for other families who may be in crisis,” she said.

Churches and community donations help agencies in this area get through these situations.

Arnold is also concerned that some families may decide not to go to warming centers or shelters for fear of being split up. But they may also be concerned about Social Services stepping in.

Arnold and Mason County Department of Human Resources Director Tonita Phipps want families in need to know that this is not the case.

“We see that as the parent doing what is necessary to meet their family’s needs, and the children are safe,” said Phipps.

She said the Madison County DHR has not received any calls from homeless shelters during cold weather and has not removed children because of a family’s need to take emergency shelter.

“Our overall goal is not to remove children,” she clarified. “We want them to remain with their families wherever possible. We want to help.”

She said that removal is considered when children are showing signs of abuse or neglect impacting their safety.

Families in need can call the DHR to get help during the cold if they need to.

They can also reach out for resources by calling 211 or the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless.