Homeless Coalition

Diana Ford of Magellan Healthcare speaks during the annual meeting of the Homeless Coalition of Northeast Alabama at the Anniston City Meeting Center. (Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star)

David Heflin came to a meeting of area agencies that help the homeless Thursday in Anniston with a request for a family in need.

A Virginia woman moved to Gadsden recently with three children, a handicapped mother and a sister with three children of her own, Heflin said. The family thought they had a pace to stay, but it fell through. They found two mobile homes and moved in, but are struggling, he said.  

“They need $500 to get the power turned on,” Heflin said. “If somebody has those funds, or can hook us up with someone who does ... We’re trying to get them some assistance.”

Heflin’s request, and the meeting’s ability to put him close to workers in numerous agencies that can help, are a part of what Thursday’s annual meeting of the Homeless Coalition of Northeast Alabama can do, said Shawn Edgar, chairman of the nonprofit coalition.

Edgar said the annual meeting brings the many agencies together, and hopefully attracts new members, all with a focus on helping eradicate homelessness.

The coalition serves Calhoun and Etowah counties, and aims to identify risk factors, develop public policy to address homelessness and educate the public on the problem, according to the coalition’s website.

According to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Alabama had an estimated 4,111 homeless people in 2016. That’s compared to 1,738 in Mississippi and 12,909 for Georgia.

Heflin, a housing inspector for the city of Gadsden and member of the coalition, told the group his experience taking part in an annual count of homeless persons in Anniston in January had a lasting impact on him.

“I went home after that week and realized that all the things I gripe about are nothing. Nothing,” Heflin said.

Each year the coalition teams with Jacksonville State University social work students and area agencies to count the homeless in Calhoun and Etowah counties over one week in January. Those counts are required for organizations to apply for and receive federal money to address homelessness, Edgar said.

Edgar didn’t have an exact number for January’s homeless count, but said she believes it’s increased since last year, partly due to a larger turnout of volunteers who helped find the area’s homeless. More people counting means better odds of finding the homeless, she said, who are good at hiding themselves.

But the problem of homelessness continues to grow, Edgar said, and winter is coming.  

Those interested in joining the Homeless Coalition of Northeast Alabama can email the group at HCNEA2013@gmail.comor visit the coalition’s Facebook page by searching for Homeless Coalition of Northeast Alabama.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.