ALBANY, Ga. -- A collaborative effort planned to help the area's homeless and near homeless get connected to community resources will help bring them into a more stable position, according to organizers.
Several organizations hosted the Project Homeless Connect "Stand Up for Our Neighbors" resource fair at the Salvation Army on West Second Avenue Tuesday.
The event, which ran from noon-4 p.m., allowed people to get employment and education information, clothing, hygiene items, bus tokens, haircuts, social services and benefits, housing, shelters, legal assistance and wellness and medical assistance.
While doing so, attendees were able to eat lunch in shifts. A proclamation signed by Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard was also presented at the fair by City Commissioner Christopher Pike.
Planning for the event, officials say, started several months ago, and was the first time that many resources were put under one roof for a single purpose.
"This is for the community to know there is a need," said David Blackwell, chairman of the Albany Dougherty Homeless Coalition. "We are trying to remove the stigma (of homelessness).
"We call them our neighbors, not vagrants. They are just like you and I."
In December, the homeless coalition plans to present a 10-year plan to reduce homelessness -- an initiative that has been 19 months in the making -- to city officials before it is implemented in January, Blackwell said.
Tuesday's event was funded in part by a $2,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. It was put on by the homeless coalition along with the city of Albany's Department of Community and Economic Development.
"We have now in Albany families that are homeless. People tend to think of the homeless as the (lonely) man walking around the bus station," said Tim Sweet-Holp, vice chair of the homeless coalition.
"(This event) is not just about the things they need, but the knowledge as well. Hopefully, this will have a long-term impact."
Sweet-Holp said that a similar event was held three years ago, but not on the same scale.
Based on the turnout from Tuesday's event, coordinators say they hope it can become an annual function. Officials initially anticipated 250 people would attend, but within the first hour they had enough of a crowd to believe they'd surpass that number.
"The most important thing is that people can get the resources to improve (their situation)," said Lorraine Alexander, community impact director for United Way of Southwest Georgia. "It is about the case management (element) to make lives better. We are trying to get even deeper to help change their situation, whatever that might be.
"We are so pleased (with the response). Our hearts are warmed."
United Way officials list four basic elements in the region that need to be addressed: education, income, basic needs and health.
"(This event) is in all of those areas," said Alexander. "We have got to collaborate. That is the only way to have substantial change."
Participating organizations in the fair included the Salvation Army/A Place 4 Hope, Department of Veterans Affairs, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Goodwill, the Dougherty County Public Library system, Open Arms, Peach State Health Plan, Albany Technical College's cosmetology department, Albany Transit System, Georgia Cares, Albany Second Chance, Albany State University and the Darton State College Dental Hygiene Department.