It is 6:00 in the evening on an unusually cold day in Birmingham. The temperature has dropped to twenty-eight degrees, and is expected to dip to twenty-two through the night.
There is already quite a crowd at the Boutwell Auditorium. The crowd is diverse, Men and women of various age and race are milling about the front of the auditorium. What is particularly odd, to the uninitiated, is the fact that almost all are laden down with some form of luggage.
Be it a backpack, a duffle bag, or a battered suitcase, most are geared to travel. No, this is not a gathering of individuals embarking on a journey of some sort. These are the homeless residents of Birminghams’ city streets, a population which is rapidly growing due to the economies’ downward spiral over the past five years.
This is a largely ignored, displaced segment of society who are in need of social programs which attend to the diverse special needs required for re-assimilation into mainstream society.
The Boutwell Auditorium opens its’ doors to the homeless on evenings when the temperature dips to thirty-two degrees or lower. Cots are set up in the auditorium and volunteers stop in to assist with the task of managing such a sizeable crowd. There is usually food provided and kind treatment for these unfortunates. This humanitarian act is a life-saving event for those who might otherwise perish in below freezing weather.
The Boutwell Auditorium is providing a vital service, yet this is only scratching the surface in dealing with the homeless epidemic in todays’ society. Providing the homeless with food and shelter, while certainly a noble endeavor, is supplying only basic needs of the lowest order.
If the process only goes this far it becomes an enabling situation which requires no positive action on the part of the individual receiving services. There was a time when it could be assumed, with a fair amount of accuracy, that those seen living on the street were either drug addicts, alcoholics, or mentally ill.
Today however, the situation is oftentimes one of financial instability. There are a growing number of young men and women today, who simply cannot find a job. Economic instability has forced companies to cut back on employees and outsource to temporary staffing services.
This seems a reasonable practice, however, many of these temporary staffing companies are in the business of exploiting the homeless. They have a captive audience of down and out individuals from which to choose. Many of their workers are chronic alcoholics or drug addicts. Some reputable temporary employment services do require drug testing and background checks, however, this is not the norm.