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February 14, 2018

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60 Seconds Birmingham: Gordon Sullivan, One Roof

January 19, 2018


Q: How long has One Roof been running?

We have been around since the mid-80s but not officially until 1992. But the way One Roof started was the Birmingham community came together. The people who were serving homeless clients--First Light, Women and Children Shelter, Firehouse Ministries, Salvation Army--came together because they were trying to address homelessness on their own...These organizations came together and said, “...We’re bigger and better and stronger if we just collaborate and make sure that we’re not duplicating services, that we are meeting all of the requirements for federal funding...” One Roof began as a place where people could have a forum... a sounding board. In the early 90s the HUD (U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) began requiring that cities do what is called a continuum of care. So Birmingham was ahead of the game.
One Roof coordinates all of the services that come from the federal government. Funding that comes through the city of Birmingham from Jefferson County, Shelby County, and St. Clair County all comes through One Roof. Our continuum of care includes 44 partner agencies right now. Most of them provide homeless services but we also have agencies outside of that realm that have a vested interest. We look at first responders, the healthcare system, also some who work in the education system--this affects us all somehow. It’s a very complex, inter-woven social issue. These groups also network and help figure out how we can best prevent and end homelessness. We’ve grown quite a bit. Project Homelessness Connect is coming up soon and we have over 65 agencies involved in that. Our net is very wide in terms of how many different people we can bring to the table and how many different perspectives and angles that we’re looking at this.

Q: I was reading about how you go out into the community to teach people about homelessness. What is the biggest takeaway you’ve gotten from doing that?

Our mission is to equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness. We do that through advocacy work, education work, and coordination of services. What we just talked about was all about coordinating services. There’s also the arm of our mission that is education and advocacy--they can look the same. We have developed what we call the Homelessness 101 Workshop in which we can present accurate and up-to-date information to community members about what are some of the factors that lead someone to becoming homeless and just very briefly on a very basic level is just lack of resources, whether that be financial, social, emotional, mental, or medical. The workshop guides our community members through specific areas of homelessness: domestic violence, chronic homelessness, substance abuse… We weave a narrative to connect all of those so that people have an understanding about what homelessness is and have found that community members DO want to know best practices. They want to know what we can learn from other communities that have been successful.. We start to look at this and say, “This worked in New Orleans, let’s try to apply this to Birmingham and see what our homelessness looks like”. We have data about homelessness and services provided from 2004 and strategies from other communities and can have a feasibility examination to see if this can work and who wants to do this work.

Q: How can members of the community get involved with One Roof?

A: Community members are welcome to our monthly meetings held on the first Thursday of everything month from 2pm to 4pm in the Cooper Green cafeteria. People can sign up for the One Roof newsletter which highlights events going on with our partner agencies.
In terms of opportunities for the public to do something we have our annual Point in Time count taking place January 23rd and 24th--very soon. We are looking for volunteers and need over 100 volunteers to canvas the city of Birmingham. There’s a night count from 6 pm to 10:30 or 11:00 pm in groups to canvas the streets of Birmingham. They go to known locations, do a grid pattern for downtown and ask every person they see on the street to fill out a form. During the day time, we go to where people hang out and make sure we can count as many people as possible who are experiencing homelessness. That day is very important because we use those numbers to determine the need Birmingham has for financial support for homelessness. Through that data I can tell you that on any given night in 2017 in Birmingham 1,092 people are experiencing homelessness. The number has declined overall, but in some particular subpopulations homelessness may be increasing while in others it is decreasing. We use this data to analyze if we are truly meeting the need of our community. If we did it this year and found that an extra 30 youth are experiencing homelessness we would know that we need to put in more resources towards addressing youth homelessness. We also make sure that we do a needs analyses and turn that in to HUD and other funders to let them know the needs we have and what needs to be funded.

Q: Do you have different events throughout the year for community involvement?

A: Most are in the beginning of the year but on February 24th we have our annual Project Homeless Connect. We need over 750 volunteers for that.

Q: That’s a high number! Do you usually meet that number?

Yes! For Project Homeless Connect, Hands On Birmingham and Faith Chapel Christian Center are the ones who recruit the volunteers. [The 65 partner agencies] usually take care of recruiting and training volunteers. I think Hands On Birmingham will post after MLK day this opportunity to volunteer with a blurb of the event information.

See link: Hands On Volunteer 

Q: How long have you been with One Roof and how did you get involved?

I have been with One Roof for 3.5 years. My background is in working with persons with disabilities. I did not intend to be a housing advocate but this work has hooked me. One of the things I have learned from this is that it is really about fairness. I believe that it isn’t fair that some people don’t have a home and some people do. I believe that some of the things that drive people into homelessness are often out of their control and it is often because they lack resources, whether they be resources in their personal lives or in their community. I would like to do what I can to help solve that. I’ll freely admit that I am not a social worker, but I found my skill set in administration. If I can do my part by making sure that others have what they need to help solve homelessness, that’s what I’ll do. A skill set in every area is needed, so you need those people who are behind the scenes and those who are on the frontlines doing the work.