Dothan’s mayor described a workshop Tuesday focusing on the city’s growing homeless population as a day of opportunity.
“There is a large group of individuals and entities that are doing a lot of great work already, but if we work together better and collaborate with one another, what larger thing can we do? I think that’s what we’re looking for,” Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba said of those individuals and organization who attended the workshop.
Recently, Saliba, Love in Action Executive Director Ken Tuck, The Harbor Executive Director Kody Kirchhoff, Jeff Peacock with The Ark, and David Jamison with the Genesis Corporation and Friendship House traveled to Austin, Texas, to research a successful model that addresses homelessness.
While on the trip, the group saw in person the merits of “Serving Goodness,” a program that began with Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a social outreach ministry that has been “empowering communities into a lifestyle of service with the homeless since 1998.”
The organization has three primary focuses: its mobile food truck that delivers food to homeless persons in their communities, micro-enterprise opportunities directed at helping homeless find dignity in earning honest wages, and its Community First! Village.
The Community First! Village is a 51-acre master-planned development that provides low-cost, permanent housing and a community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness. The community is complete with a large RV park for families and neighborhoods of tiny homes for individuals. At the village, residents have access to case workers, community gardens, showers, bathrooms, kitchens, an outdoor amphitheater and many other amenities that serve their needs.
Saliba said there were many takeaways from the trip, which was sponsored by a micro-grant from Wiregrass Foundation, including ways to address ever-present needs like food and clothing.
“The second part would be to possibly have a community or campus where one could feel part of the community and kind of gain back the dignity of doing some work and dealing with others socially and interacting with those that they may feel more comfortable with,” Saliba said. “We’re not just here to fix somebody. We’re here to provide community.”
Kirchhoff said he believes a low-cost housing community could be a feasible way to assist Dothan’s chronically homeless population.
“We’ve seen the statistics — when we lose something family-wise, we lose a sense of identity. We lose a sense of togetherness. We lose a lot, and then, life doesn’t make sense after that,” he said.
“There is such a need here of permanent housing for those who are homeless and want out of it… If we could find them a sense of home, and a sense of community, and a sense of love, we could get them into stable and permanent housing, which would benefit our community incredibly.”
Vickie Alleman, president of the SouthEast Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, said the purpose of the event hosted by SEACH was to identify areas that community members could begin working on and contributing to its overall goal.
Over 50 members in attendance at the workshop discussed ideas to utilize local businesses to help homeless persons obtain gainful employment, connecting subgroups to case managers and mental health services and primary care, combining resources among businesses and faith-based organizations to provide transportation, providing food to homeless in rural areas, and linking veterans with programs and benefits.
“What we’re trying to do is to continue to have conversations about the issues that revolve around homelessness whether it’s where they live, how to get food, clothing,” Saliba said. “What we want to do is see what parts and pieces could work in Dothan.”
At the end of the workshop, Alleman chose three topics — food, recreation and mental health — to form committees she believes members could readily move forward.
“You have to get people more emotionally stable — be sure that they have enough to eat,” Alleman said. “Like recreation, it’s building a sense of community amongst people so they begin to have support because one of the things they talked about this morning was the lack of family involvement as people become homeless due to a whole lot of issues.”
Jamison said his organization takes a yearly census of homeless persons in Dothan. At the end of January this year, the number was over 600 individuals and families.
“There’s definitely a need like Community First! here in Dothan and we can definitely do it in Dothan,” Tuck said. “There are enough people here who are interested in helping the problem of unwanted homelessness.”
The coalition will hold its next public meeting at the Harbor on Nov. 7 at noon.