While waiting for a friend outside Honest Coffee, a man caught my attention. He was coming down the sidewalk with his tent and backpack and sat down at a table. I walked down, careful to give him a wide bubble, and waved asking if he’d be willing to talk with me. I ask my painfully obvious, usual questions: Do you have somewhere to stay tonight? Do you know about the Mission and the Salvation Army shelters? Are you hungry or thirsty? I leave him with information about our warming shelters if it drops below freezing again and direct him to call 2-1-1 if he’s in need of any resources. He thanks me for the information as the tea arrives so I leave him to it and wish him the best.
To my husband’s amusement, I do this fairly often whenever we see someone who appears as homeless in Huntsville. I typically open with, “sorry I don’t carry cash on me” (which is always regrettably true) and then offer food, water, or any other help. Families looking to get involved with helping the homeless in Huntsville can find a variety of resources available to get them started.
Helping without Hindering: Reducing Duplication
Despite the people and the city of Huntsville being extremely caring and generous, this can sometimes cause issues. Mayor Tommy Battle has shared a story of delivering a fabulous full-course Thanksgiving meal to one of the homeless camps (called Tent City) a few years ago. However, once he arrived with the cornucopia of food, no one ate. One of the residents apologetically told him, “thanks, but we’ve already been fed five times today and we’re all stuffed.” He used this story to explain that we are an extremely giving city, but that also leads to duplication, waste, and a build up of uneaten food, trash and blight at our homeless camps.
An entire campaign, #cashbeatstrash was started by the ELM Foundation to encourage people to give their money directly to local organizations that help the homeless in Huntsville instead of piling up food and trash at the camps. Giving your time and resources are wonderful, but there is also a gap for funding for other things such as prescription drugs (held and administered at First Stop), case managers, and transitional housing options. Community funding could go a long way in helping Huntsvillians exit homelessness. We recommend teaming up with one of the organizations listed below who are already familiar with the camps, so you’ll know what to expect and how to serve most effectively
Churches and organizations looking to provide meals to the different camps, can also find a sign up schedule on the Community SignUp Genius to prevent duplication of services.
Resources for Families Looking to Help the Homeless in Huntsville
The purpose of this article is to help families help the homeless community in Huntsville in the most effective and purposeful way. We’ve also included a printable resource guide* that families can keep in their car or purse that lists community resources to help someone experiencing homelessness. Our goal is to empower, not enable, so people currently experiencing homelessness have the resources to acquire permanent housing. Families looking to help the homeless in Huntsville can get involved with a number of organizations throughout the Rocket City.
*Please be mindful that the guide is set to print as a legal document so you may need to change your printer settings to letter size paper.
New Futures is always on the top of my list to call whenever I have household donations. They are the only dedicated family shelter in our area. New Futures is the only place families can go to remain intact. At other shelters, if a woman has a 13 year old son, he’d have to go to the men’s shelter. Men aren’t able to come to the shelters if they have young children, so they are forced to remain living out of their car or camping to not separated. Tayna Rains, the Executive Director, shared that they were finally able to purchase their property from the previous landlord and are needing to do some serious renovations. Needs include two HVAC systems which will cost $18,000 and new flooring since the lodge is 30 years old.
They are also planning to build kennels in the backyard so the people they house will not have to be separated from their furry companion. Tayna says monetary donations are extremely helpful, but they are always in need of regular household items such as cleaning supplies, towels and linens, shelf-stable food, etc. Since their mission is to move people into permanent housing, they are sometimes in need of furniture. For larger items, you can contact Tayna directly at 256-929-3215. Tayna states that there’s a desperate need for people who would be willing to rent to families who may have eviction on their record.
Volunteers able to provide community dinners (feeding 30-35 people) would also be welcomed so that families don’t have to cook in stages; this could be a perfect opportunity for a Sunday school class or community group wanting to serve! Visit their website to learn more and donate.
First Stop is our area’s largest day program serving the homeless community. They serve breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and lunch at noon every weekday. First Stop also provide showers and laundry and can help with over-the-counter or prescription medications. They even have case managers available to help get people into permanent housing and obtain state-issued identification. Tim Davis, the Executive Director, sends a weekly needs list which could be a fun project for your church, class, or office staff to collect. You can read their weekly newsletter and see the updated donation needs list by following their Facebook page.
Their biggest need currently is monetary donations to construct a new case management building called The Empowerment Center. This will greatly expand their services and ability to help our homeless community into permanent and independent living. Learn more about their plans and donate here.
If you would like to give your time and serve food, they ask that you schedule with the operations manager at 256-533-3391.
Rose of Sharon
Rose of Sharon is a daily program and soup kitchen available for anyone who needs their services. They serve food on real china from 9 a.m. -1 p.m. Monday through Friday and provide showers and access to laundry services. They are working on creating a resource center so people can apply for jobs, submit disability, get into housing, and more. If you’d like to help consider making donations of computers, laptops and printers. They are always accepting non-perishable food items and breakfast items such as coffee and milk. If you’re willing to volunteer with your time, they would love for anyone to serve in their dining area, be a listening ear, help serve food, and clean up the meals. Erica Jones is the volunteer coordinator and can be reached at their main office at 256-536-2970. Visit their website to learn more and donate.
Manna House also operates a food pantry service three days a week. Read more about one family’s experience volunteering at Manna House here.
Joyful Blessings is a small non-profit organization directed by Noel Pitman whose sole focus is meeting our homeless populations’ individual needs and building relationships. You can team up with them to take or prepare meals and supplies for the homeless camps. View immediate needs and events by going to their Facebook page by calling Noel at 256-337-4186. Donate directly by choosing her organization on Huntsville Dream Center’s website.
Join Charity Tracker and Community Connections!
Any 501(c)3 charities, corporations and churches may join Charity Tracker by requesting a free membership at www.charitytracker.net. Groups must sign a Memorandum of Understanding to be admitted to the software. The Community Connections network is open to everyone and meets in-person and on Zoom every second Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. This is a great way to get involved and be introduced to the helping organizations in our community! In order to join the network and receive the Zoom invite and the Community Connections newsletter, please reach out to Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org with an email requesting to be added.
Homeless Shelters in Huntsville
Please visit the websites for the two main homeless shelters for more information on volunteering.
Audrey Smith likes to think of herself as the “resource queen” of North Alabama. After serving in the region over the last dozen years as a substance abuse counselor, outreach coordinator, and school counselor, she looks forward to her newest opportunity as program director for a new non-profit, Hatch. Any updates or suggestions of additional resources for the printable homeless resource guide can be submitted by email.
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As a hyper-local website focused on all aspects of parenting in and around Huntsville, AL, and the Tennessee Valley, Rocket City Mom occasionally asks local parents to submit their stories for publication. This is part of our continual effort to represent varied viewpoints and experiences on our site. However, these articles should not be seen as necessarily expressing the views of Rocket City Mom Media Group, LLC.