A recent survey counted homeless citizens in Albany at about 1,200 souls this year, up from 100 souls counted last year.
Behind the First Presbyterian Church at 220 N. Jackson Ave. downtown is a door painted with the words, “The Back Door.”
Pastor Garrett Andrews said, “We live in a town with rampant homelessness. There are 300 churches in this town and that news speaks for itself. [I feel] anointed to bring good news to the poor and this [fair] is something that is good news … to get their feet on the ground; to become self-sufficient. I believe in the homeless working toward self-sufficiency.”
The congregation still enters through the front but First Presbyterian’s “Back Door” saw a lot of homeless people get fed and informed Saturday at its homeless awareness resource fair. The church also hosts a free lunch every second and fourth Saturday of the month.
The fair is meant to offer up-to-date information about resources provided by government and nonprofit agencies to low-income and homeless individuals and families in Albany and surrounding communities. The Albany-Dougherty Coalition for Homelessness (ADCH), chaired by Dr. Timothy Sweet-Holp, organized and sponsored the event with some funding from the City of Albany. The United Way and Dougherty County Health Department also had representatives at the fair, which drew about 100 participants.
Kontorra Davis, ADCH volunteer coordinator said, “They’ll be doing health screening for HIV and blood pressure, so that at future dates the homeless population will know where to get health care.”
E.J. Williams, a registered nurse with the health department, said the agency’s clinic at 1710 S. Slappey Blvd. sees more than 30,000 patients a year. For them, a “Community Resources” directory is provided by ADCH listing sources for free and low-cost healthcare.
County Health provided information about its sliding scale medical services such as hearing, vision, and dental screening, immunizations, drug testing, pregnancy testing, and infectious disease testing. Services are free to those without income. “You can usually get an appointment the same day,” Williams said.
Meanwhile, Mission Change, a resource coordinating organization, aims to volunteers wanting to assist homeless people in Albany with organizations that serve them. Opportunities for volunteers are wide-open with churches and nondenominational nonprofit organizations that offer services to the homeless and low-income population of Albany.
“We bring people who want to work as volunteers together with those organizations needing volunteers,” Urick said.
Urick also said Mission Change can help people offering donations find the proper source to accept specific types of donations.
Lorraine Alexander., community impact director for the United Way of Southwest Georgia, said the top requests for services were for help with utility payments, rent, eye glasses, and prescriptions. “Our goal again this year in our current fund drive is $1.5 million. Eighty-nine cents of every dollar goes back into the agency.”
That means almost 90 percent of donations are returned to the community directly in services the United Way provides. The United Way operates the “211 AIRS” System for coordinating services in 13 counties. Call 211 or 888-6126 for information on where to find food, clothing, shelter, family resources, prescription assistance, and support groups.
Homelessness referral and services in Albany: United Way: 211 or 229-888-6126; Health care, Dougherty County Health: 430-6300; Donations, volunteers, Mission Change: 888-1816; Samaritan Clinic: 888-7420 (Clinic for uninsured medical services)
By Phil Hennin