Founder of homeless outreach center honored with Jefferson Award

FOX 31 continues to honor our local heroes with the Jefferson Award.

The Jefferson Award is the nation's longest standing and most prestigious organization dedicated to celebrating public service.

David Blackwell is December’s winner who tells us it’s his calling to tackle homelessness in Albany and Dougherty county.

Taking on homelessness in Albany and Dougherty County all started as an epiphany for David Blackwell. who chairs the Albany-Dougherty Coalition to End Homelessness.

“It began for me back in 2007. In some ways, a lot of ways it was a faith journey… We were members of a mega church here and I was on every committee possible in the church, really wasn’t accomplishing anything. I just had the sense inside of me that there was something more for me,” said Blackwell. “Dealing with the issues of race, poverty and homelessness in this community has always been a passion of mine because I am a lifelong Albanian… I think solving one or two or three of those things will reset the trajectory of this community and change us in ways that are only imaginable,” he added.

As one of the founders of A Place for Hope, Blackwell and community partners created a place to meet more needs of the homeless in our community.

“We recognize a laundry of things as a given but for the homeless to have a place to go. To have a hot cup of coffee; have somebody just to talk to and at the same time get laundry done, have a hot shower and then two days a week there’s a resource center there where they could assistance getting their I. D’s, birth certificate, social security cards,” Blackwell said. “That took us about 19 months of planning to where we brought the city and county government together, the business and faith community all together at one time to share this idea with and everybody agreed to participate. And I think it was a historic moment for the city of Albany because nothing like that had ever been attempted before much less get off the ground. It continues today,” he added.

He said it’s the little things they do like helping the homeless get flu shots and information on housing at events like Project Homeless; to giving refurbished bikes for getting to work that go a long way.

“So much of it is what most Albanians would think simple and take for granted but to somebody that is homeless that might be sleeping on a tent tonight or on the banks of the river somewhere, that is huge for them,” Blackwell said.

He said there are about 2-3,000 homeless people in our area and A Place for Hope works to treat each person holistically.

“Even dealing with the more serious issues of addiction and mental health; we’ve been able to with other partnerships begin to address those issues. Because we recognize in Albany the chronic homeless; those two issues are the things they struggle with the most,” Blackwell said. “Trying to get help for them to address the mental health and addiction issues. So all of that we try to encapsulate that in one place and it became a place for hope. And we really wanted it to become just that; a place where they can really find hope,” he added.

Sometimes they may not be able to help everyone but they see progress.

“I could tell stories of guys that were in our community homeless. I can tell you one now that comes to mind that today works for the city of Tallahassee Florida; full time employed with benefits, a home and off the streets of Albany,” Blackwell said.

And from working to get funding on a state level to finding what local resources are available… Blackwell said there’s still more work to be done and that’s what keeps him going.

“It’s huge; it’s something we continue to remind ourselves not to take for granted because it can go away just as quick as it came. so we continue to try to breathe new energy into it, Blackwell said. “There’s not many that happen but we do have wins here and we celebrate the win; not for ourselves but for those individuals who are able to move from the street to safe and affordable housing,” he added.

He said community members are welcome to join the Albany-Dougherty Coalition to End Homelessness at their meetings every fourth Monday of every month at the Microbusiness Technology Center.

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