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Albany and Dougherty County homeless gather for services and information

More than 40 sevice providers help the homeless at the Albany Civic Center

Jerry C. Coe registers to receive various services and information at Project Homeless Connect, held at the Albany Civic Center Friday. The second annual event is a parntership of the Albany-Dougherty Homeless Coalition and the Department of Community and Economic Development and features help from more than 40 service providers. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

Jerry C. Coe registers to receive various services and information at Project Homeless Connect, held at the Albany Civic Center Friday. The second annual event is a parntership of the Albany-Dougherty Homeless Coalition and the Department of Community and Economic Development and features help from more than 40 service providers. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

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Donna McKinney, left, picks up a free laundry bag from Irrion Conaler at Project Homeless Connect at the Albany Civic Center Friday. Conaler and Sekoyia Fife, center, are members of the Albany State University ROTC and volunteered to help during the event. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — Organizers and providers for Project Homeless Connect at the Albany Civic Center were surprised Friday by the number of homeless people there to receive a meal, clothing and important information, event officials said.

The initiative is presented in partnership by the Albany-Dougherty Homeless Coalition and the Albany Department of Community and Economic Development. By 10 a.m., the line of attendees stretched well into the parking lot.

“We got here early, said David Blackwell, chair of the Albany Dougherty Coalition to End Homelessness, “and there were between 70 and 80 people in line at 7:30 a.m. I believe a lot of them slept here last night.”

Blackwell said the Coalition, as well a long list of service providers which included the Veterans Administration, Albany Primary Health Care and the Samaritan Clinic in Albany, had prepared for a turnout of 400 to 500 homeless or needy individuals.

“We’ve worked for years building what I call ‘on the ground plowing,’ creating these relationships with service providers in this community to get to where we are today,” Blackwell said. “We started last year with a smaller group and outgrew the Salvation Army. This year we outgrew this room at the Civic Center. Next year we’ll be on the main floor because it’s gotten so big.”

Inside the Civic Center respondents could get a complimentary meal of barbecued chicken, rice and beans then receive a new blanket, coat or a new pair of boots — military surplus provided by the V.A. and distributed by ROTC volunteers from Albany State University. Sgt. Danny Ashley works with the Georgia National Guard in Albany, he said, and is also working on his Masters Degree in social work at ASU, so he has a “dual interest” in helping veterans. No one was asked if they’d served in the military.

“My hope is that we at least help all the veterans and none of them come up short,” Ashley said.

There were free haircuts, flu shots, blood pressure and HIV checks, and long rows of tables where attendees could find information from educational institutions, the Department of Labor, Dougherty County Sheriffs Office, Georgia Office of Corrections, Christian outreach organizations and many more. Fort Valley State University sent a mobile computer lab for open enrollment in Medicare.

“There are over 40 different service providers here today,” Blackwell said. “The V.A. has responded like crazy, providing eight different services for our homeless vets today.”

In addition to providing services and information, each attendee was required to register for the event, Blackwell said.

“We try to gather data at the intake — where (the homeless) are, where they live — to help us with our identification and accounting process,” Blackwell said.