Nonprofits collaborate to better understand how to help, not hurt the Huntsville homeless population

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Nonprofits, civic organizations, and community leaders gathered at the Downtown Rescue Mission Wednesday to learn how to better serve the homeless population in Huntsville.

The forum, "Helping Not Hurting" organized by the Community Connections Project which was started to create collaboration between nonprofit agencies and community organizations.

The goal for the meeting: to help people understand the appropriate ways to help the homeless and that are even ways that instead of helping might actually be hurting.

"Particularly, to address the issue of duplicated services, wasted resources and the opportunity to leverage resources by working together," said Jennie Robinson.

Jennie Robinson is the event organizer. She's also a city council member. She says, while there are good-hearted people who want to help, it's also creating waste and dependency.

"We have a lot of people who want to go into the camps and drop off supplies and food. We have so many people doing that, that's not really the need. They are creating problems. A lot of trash, rats, crows, and frankly just a lot of wasted resources," said Robinson.

Areas where they need help: transportation and financial assistance.

"We need help with financial assistance for medical care particularly prescription drugs. Mental illness is prevalent among some sections of the homeless community and they need rides to go for treatment. They need money to pay for their prescription drugs," said Robinson.

Data from homeless counts show an increase in some areas and decrease in others.

"The number of homeless veterans has decreased, but the number of unaccompanied children, homeless youth, has increased," said Robinson.

There are different kinds of homelessness and the ways to help the two different populations differ greatly.

"The chronically homeless are a very small percentage of the population, those who are suffering from homelessness because of an event in their lives need help perhaps with job training, finding a job, finding housing, finding transportation," said Robinson.

Another city leader who spoke said he knew it would be controversial to talk about waste and dependency. But the ultimate goal is to help move people out of homelessness. There are so many resources out there.

"We would also like to see people begin to invest in programs that help people move out of homelessness. Anything we can do to help them move towards sustainability is what we want to see happen," said Robinson.

The Community Connections Project wants to ensure people are actually getting help to access those programs to move to sustainability.

Representatives from First Stop, the City of Huntsville Police Department, the Salvation Army, Community Connections, and the ELM Foundation were in attendance.

This is the second time the Homelessness Forum has met. The next community forum is set for April 16.