By Devese “Dee” Ursery
Madison County and the Dream Center on Friday helped to connect the homeless with all kinds of needed resources in a single setting.
Project Homeless Connect is a county wide event that helps the homeless community get their hands on services and goods that could possibly help. Over 30 vendors were out at the River of Life Church in Alton ready to serve people that came in for a helping hand.
David Kerr, homeless care coordinator for Madison County Community Development said that mental health and substance abuse services are some of the main needs of the homeless. He also said that since they are transient in nature it is hard to get an absolute number on them.
Kerr said that the homeless are mostly seen in where there is a higher concentration of people. There is a homeless population in all of the municipalities in Madison County, including Alton, Edwardsville and Collinsville areas. Homelessness in rural areas like Troy, St. Joseph and Marine often flies under the radar because it is less visible than the urban setting.
Kerr said that there are various issues that prevent the homeless from finding shelter and getting off the streets. He blames a lack of knowledge, lack of space and sometimes a lack of willingness as the biggest barriers that the homeless face.
“I think sometimes there’s just an unwillingness to accept mental health help,” Kerr said. “ A lot of times people just don’t know about the resources that are available.”
Kerr also said that bed space is another issue with the homeless population, stating that it’s hard to get people shelter because sometimes the shelters get full. One of the goals of the event, to get the information out to the people who need it. The information is posted on Madison County’s website.
Denise Bradley, mental health coordinator for Madison County, said a collaboration with community-based organizations and volunteers from across Madison County brings essential and otherwise hard-to-access services to people living on the streets.
“The event excels in connecting our most vulnerable to vital resources throughout Madison County in a one day, one place event,” Bradley said.
Volunteers and service providers were present to assist in the distribution of food, beverages and clothing. Representatives also provided a wide range of services that include substance abuse and mental health counseling, legal services, employment assistance and other social services.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that local agencies conduct a survey every year to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness in each jurisdiction throughout the country. The results of an annual Point in Time Count are used to help determine grant funding for community development and local service providers.
“I’ve done point and time count for three years and this is the most I’ve ever counted,” Bradley said.
Bradley said the volunteers go out in the evening to talk and hand out blankets, coats and hats to the unhoused.
Robert Clark has been homeless for about five months and he said he came to the event searching for employment and shelter. Clark said that because we’re homeless that doesn’t mean that we are all bad or on drugs.
“I just want everybody to know that just because a person is homeless that doesn’t mean that they are bad,” Clark said. “Not all of us are on drugs. Some of us just need an extra boost and with that extra boost, maybe some of us can get back on track.”
Clark said that the main barrier that keeps them from getting on track is an ID. He also stated it’s difficult to get an ID for employment because they don’t have a permanent address for the ID to be mailed to them.
“It’s hard when programs offer to give you a free ID, but you have nowhere for them to mail it, “ Clark said. “Not having a mailing address stops about 98% of the homeless people from getting back on their feet.”