Get Involved: Serve the Homeless

No matter what the time of year, hundreds of homeless people are in need across Birmingham. As Christmas draws near, let us not forget these people. There are many ways for you to get involved and serve the homeless. Rather than you going and handing out food or personal hygiene items to them, we recommend you connect with a nonprofit ministry already serving the homeless. Here are 5 of the most well-known organizations that homeless individuals go to when they are in need.

Salvation Army (Birmingham)

Urban Ministry

First Light (for women)

Firehouse Shelter (for men)

Church of the Reconciler

If you’re interested in learning more about the issue of homelessness in Birmingham, check out OneRoof Birmingham, an organization that coordinates services provided by homeless agencies in central Alabama.

Four Things You Shouldn’t Say To Homeless People

Birmingham’s streets are home to a number of homeless people. Each day, hundreds of people walk past this group of people. Sometimes, these people will take the time to stop and say something to a homeless person. However, often, what people say to the homeless is often insulting to them. Here are a couple things not to say to a homeless person.

Q: Why don’t you go to a shelter?
Birmingham emergency shelters are overflowing. There is not enough room in the shelters to house all of the homeless individuals. In Birmingham, there is only one women’s shelter that is open year-round 24/7. Most shelters close their doors by dusk. If you’re a homeless individual on the streets and you aren’t at a shelter by that time, the chance finding a shelter to take you in for the night is close to none.

Q: It’s your own fault that you’re homeless.
America’s “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” philosophy generally doesn’t work. A large percentage of the U.S. population lives paycheck-to-paycheck. If they miss work due to health or family reasons or lose their jobs altogether, they could find themselves homeless on the street in a matter of weeks.

Q: Here’s five dollars. Please don’t use it to buy drugs.
Yes, homeless people use drugs. Yes, they drink alcohol and smoke tobacco. At the same time, so do many other Americans. Homeless people find it insulting for you to single them out as the only users of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products. When given the choice between buying a meal and buying drugs or alcohol, most homeless people will choose a meal. This isn’t true for all homeless people, but it is true for most of them.

Q: Why don’t you just go get a job?
Have you looked at the job market lately? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate is at 6.2 percent, and Alabama’s unemployment rate is at 7.0 percent. On top of this, many job applications require a permanent address and/or social security number. Homeless people don’t have a permanent address, and may not know their social security number.