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CARLTON FLETCHER: Why not a true coalition to fight homelessness?

OPINION: Combined agencies would have greater impact

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I want you to join together with the band.

— The Who

I spent part of my Labor Day holiday in and around the north Albany woods off 16th Avenue, looking for evidence that members of the area’s homeless population had started moving back into those woods from which they’d been removed back in May.

I saw no one in the area that fit the description, and subsequent conversations with security and law enforcement personnel indicated no formal complaints have been filed, although there have been several unofficial reports of homeless individuals in the area. I did, however, see evidence that at best would be called inconclusive — some might call it manufactured, but they would presuppose I wanted the reports to be true — that there might indeed be people staying in the woods that are now clearly posted with No Trespassing signs.

I’ve never been accused of being a crusader, but looking into this incident awakened an idea that on the surface seems so simple I’m having trouble understanding why people a lot smarter than I haven’t brought it to officials’ attention before now.

Albany is fortunate to have a Coalition to end Homelessness, ably headed by David Blackwell, whose purpose is to work with local organizations to try and eradicate what all agree is a growing problem in this region. There are dozens of government social service providers and charitable and nonprofit organizations in the community whose stated purpose is to help the area’s homeless and others who are precariously housed, the folks who live month to month trying to raise enough money to stave off eviction.

This is by no means meant to single out any of the groups whose volunteers do more for the homeless population than pretty much any government employee paid to do so, but the group Mission:Change — whose principles, Todd and LaDonna Urick, are without question among the most caring and active advocates for the homeless — held a fundraiser last week that featured a performance by LaDonna Urick’s brother, who just happens to be “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips. Not many folks can pull that off, but connections are everything.

Using attendance reports and ticket prices of $40 advance and $50 at the show, the concert was a rousing success, possibly raising anywhere between $80,000 and $150,000. Certainly there had to be costs that came from that total, but the money raised is going to make Mission:Change’s efforts against homelessness even more dynamic.

There are other local agencies that have raised $10,000 and $2,000 and $30,000 and $1,000 and $20,000 to help with the fight against homelessness. Take all that money and put it into one pot, and suddenly you have enough funding to put a major dent in the issue.

The problem is, though, there appears to be a territoriality among many of the various agencies advocating for the homeless. I talked with a former volunteer at one such agency, and she said, “There are two issues. One has to do with ego. The people at these agencies want to make sure they get credit for any little thing they do. The second thing is that more of the donated money than you can imagine goes to pay sometimes exorbitant salaries and for facilities such as office space.

“A lot of the money never directly impacts the homeless.”

Blackwell has his own similar tale.

“The Georgia Department of Community Affairs doles out emergency shelter funds all over the state,” Blackwell said. “One area social services provider got $40,000, and they’re sitting on that money, using it to pay salaries. That’s not what that money was intended for.”

There has to be someone out there with the organizational skills to unite these organizations that truly want to help the homeless so that the funding that is raised can be used for its intended purposes. And why couldn’t there be some kind of agency set up with that funding that ties it to work opportunities so that the homeless who are capable can earn the money they’re given and in turn give back to the community?

Perhaps I’m naive, but I imagine that a community such as Albany, one capable of generating the number of relief agencies here and filling those agencies with volunteers, would be way more willing to help out the less fortunate willing to help themselves.