Although Central Alabama’s current economic outlook is bright, United Way of Central Alabama is forecasting a greater demand for assistance throughout its five-county service area.
“The economy is stronger, but there is insufficient help with recovery for those in our community who have barriers to finding jobs or they have jobs that don’t pay a living wage,” said Samuetta Nesbitt, Senior Vice President Public Relations, United Way of Central Alabama.
For that segment of our community, the needs are still there and for United Way agencies, the demand for services is growing. Add to those challenges, an opioid epidemic straining families and breaking them up, and an explosion in Alabama’s senior population.
Foster Care and Children Services
One area services the need is growing is foster care.
Presently, there is a waiting list totaling 250 or more children needing to be placed with families in foster care, and new children are entering the system every day. More funding is needed to recruit and train families to meet the growing needs.
“The need is not going away; it is getting worse. Everything you see about homelessness, joblessness, opioid addiction, and abuse, is related. It is so much bigger than what people realize,” said Patti Lovoy, Director of Development at Children’s Aid Society, a United Way partner agency.
Along with foster care, Children’s Aid Society works every day to break the cycle of poverty with programs that teach life skills and prepare parents to keep their families together.
“All of our programs are designed to strengthen and build families. All children do better if they have a family,” said Lovoy.
Senior care and family support
On the other end of the spectrum, senior care is becoming more and more challenging and costly.
According to Lauren Schwartz, Executive Director of Collat Jewish Family Services, a United Way Partner Agency, the need for senior services is growing rapidly.
“The need among older adults is growing for several reasons, including the aging of the Baby Boomers and the fact that we all are living longer. The fastest growing segment of the older population is those age 85 and older, who are often the most frail and vulnerable.”
For example, one in nine people over age 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
Schwartz added, “Aging impacts us all, whether we are an older adult or family member, friend or neighbor of an older adult. We all age, regardless of our race, ethnicity or financial situation.”
Breaking the cycle of homelessness
The homeless need multiple services.
Despite an improving economy, nearly 1,100 people experience homelessness in greater Birmingham on a given night. Pathways, a United Way agency, works to meet the immediate and long-term needs of homeless women and children, helping them to break down the barriers to economic security and stable housing.
“When people think of a strong economy, they mostly think about jobs,” said Carrie Leland, Executive Director of Pathways. “Securing employment begins with having a safe and dependable place to sleep each night. To be housed is a common need in the lives of all people.”
The basic things many take for granted are what Pathways offers the women and children experiencing homelessness in Birmingham, such as daily nutrition (serving around 70 lunches each day), access to showers, hygiene products, and computer access.
Additional emergency shelter beds are necessary for getting more women and children off of the street at night, and more affordable housing is needed throughout the city to break the cycle of poverty.
United Way supports over 80 agencies and initiatives
There is also a fragile service infrastructure (nonprofits) because of disruptions in federal, state and local funding. Some nonprofits never recovered from the decline in economic activity in the early 2000s.
United Way of Central Alabama set a fundraising goal of $38 million to help support its 80 partner agencies and initiatives. But United Way agencies requested $1.1 million more than what they received the previous year.
There are local challenges that require local solutions. “Our community is truly what I like to call a ‘brother’s keeper’s’ community. I don’t feel like we are content to sit by and watch others fail. The United Way is constantly looking at the needs on a local basis. I love that focus on local,” said Alan Register, Regions Bank Executive Vice President and 2018 United Way of Central Alabama Campaign Chairman.
This demand for more services has been building for years and that is why United Way has never stopped pushing to raise its fundraising goals to accommodate the growing number of underserved and the new poor.
We must keep pushing forward, upward.