HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The city of Huntsville is known for a lot of great things, including being one of the most affordable places to live. But those who work closely with the homeless say there’s another side to the city.
Patty Lowe with First Stop says, “What is not promoted is we are also known as the best city to be homeless in America.”
The problem is one of good intentions. There are a lot of organizations out serving people in the area, “Unfortunately they are not working with each other to accomplish their goals.”
She says when good-hearted people don’t work together it can cause duplication of services and spread already scarce resources more thin.
City leaders believe that if all of the money spent by organizations who serve the homeless in Huntsville was combined they city could house the homeless rather than host them in camps.
An over distribution of food can also cause health problems. Recently the city became aware of an instance where four churches were providing Sunday dinner for one homeless camp.
“The food is now going to waste, it’s rotting and it’s creating a public health issue because we now have rats and crows in the camp.”
Layla Clemons lives at one of the homeless camps she’s had to deal with the unintended mess.
“You can only eat so many apples and so many loaves of bread. You can’t eat all of the stuff like that and then it just sits there,” she says.
Lowe says another issue is that when too much food and resources are donated it can lower people’s desire to find work and a way out.
“We create sustainability in the camps where people are more comfortable in the camps then they are getting out and achieving goals,” says Lowe.
Too much food isn’t the only issue, tents and other resources that are donated can be used as a commodity. Perry lives at one of the homeless camps in Huntsville and she says she’s seen people exchange the free stuff they are given for cash.
“Sometimes you get these people that take it back to where they got it from and that’s just not right,” says Perry.
The solution isn’t for people to stop donating, but the city believes if churches, non-profits, and businesses who serve the community start to work together and combine their resources their services will go further.
“What if each of those churches chose one Sunday a month that they would prepare a meal?” says Robinson.
Communication Connections Network was formed earlier this year, in partnership with the city of Huntsville. The goal of the program is to organizations connect.
Missy Hanks with Expect Little Miracles says the network “allows the social service agencies to connect together and it also includes corporations, churches, and civic associations so we can coordinate and help the city as a whole.”
That way resources can go further.
“Let’s bring the best of what everyone has together how can we make our resources go the furthest and create a dependency and a mess in the camps that’s just not controllable,” says Lowe.
And people are motivated to move forward.
“What we’re trying to do here is get people back on their feet and help them get apartments,” says Clemons.
There is a Community Connections Network Forum happening Tuesday, October 22, at 6:30 pm at Trinity United Methodist Church. The focus is on finding solutions for Huntsville’s homeless.
Mayor Tommy Battle and Community leaders will be present to discuss needs, resources and opportunities for collaboration.