In one of his lesser-known songs called Half A Mile Away, Billy Joel describes a world he escaped to as a youth to get away from some of the unpleasant realities of his regular life. In this world, he was with his friends laughing, telling stories (and lies), and flirting with girls. He describes this other world as a carefree holiday. It was his opportunity to get away from it all and enjoy life.
I’ve given everybody so much time
Now I need a moment that’s mine
Oh, my other world is just a half a mile away
Who can blame him? We all have a “happy place” and value the time we get to spend there.
Escaping to our own world is much easier for us today. While a teenage Billy Joel had to wait until his parents went to sleep so he could sneak out his upstairs window, more and more Americans are choosing to simply open up their phones or fire up their favorite streaming service to escape. During the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders, Nielsen research found that Americans spent an average of 60% more time streaming entertainment.
Half a Mile Away in Huntsville
Even so, with Covid restrictions loosening Americans are eager to get back out there. Now more than ever, if you live in Huntsville there are great options to escape right outside your door. Visit historic sites and museums, explore a wide variety of hiking trails and outdoor activities, and experience a rapidly growing Arts & Entertainment community.
The Campus 805 area in Northwest Huntsville is bustling with unique breweries, entertainment venues, restaurants, and event spaces. This dynamic, modern area with a historic legacy model the city of Huntsville itself.
Once the home of Butler High School in the 1950s, the campus became Stone Middle School from 1967 to 2009. After sitting vacant for several years and in an almost forgotten part of town, the old campus received a facelift and a new future. Now Campus 805 is an important part of an ongoing revitalization of this historic neighborhood.
Interestingly, exactly a half-mile away from Campus 805 is First Stop, another bustling campus full of energy, but also quite different. Nearly 100 members of Huntsville’s homeless community visit First Stop each day, not to escape from their daily reality, but to get help.
At First Stop, staff members and volunteers work together to provide 2 hot meals, help with basic supplies, access to shower and laundry facilities, and assistance with other important services. Most importantly, First Stop’s team of “Homeless-To-Housed” Case Managers work individually with homeless clients to address obstacles, get plugged into support and services available in the community, develop important life skills, obtain sustainable income and ultimately secure independent housing.
Huntsville’s Consistent Growth in All Areas
Huntsville, now the largest city in Alabama, has experienced consistent growth over the last several years. That type of growth has a wide variety of side effects ranging from increased road construction projects to more new restaurants opening. City growth also impacts the homeless community. Numerous studies show that as cities grow, so does the size of the homeless population.
Huntsville even has the added challenge of being an attractive destination for the homeless from other communities.
“There are many, many cases of people coming from all over who are homeless,” explains Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “They come to this area because they see a prosperous city, a city receiving national accolades. We have challenges to take care of the needs of other people from other places as they come here.”
The stark contrast between the busy days at First Stop and the busy evenings and weekends next door at Campus 805 is not lost on First Stop’s Executive Director, Jennifer Geist. “That’s the world we live in,” explains Jennifer. “The homeless are among us and a part of our community. It’s important that we all work together to keep Huntsville the exciting, attractive city that it is, while also ensuring that the homeless community is receiving the resources and real help they need in the safest, most effective way possible.”
It’s Closer than You Think
The homeless community may seem like a different world, but it’s closer than we might think. With the Holiday Season just around the corner, many of us are more aware of helping those in need.
To make the most positive impact, and to avoid doing more harm than good, it’s important to take a coordinated, data-driven approach to reach out to the homeless.
“First Stop does a great job of making sure that maybe we don’t give a handout, but a hand up,” said Mayor Battle. “My advice to those that want to help the homeless is to work with First Stop or one of the other agencies. Make sure you’re doing something that has a solution base to it.”
First Stop offers numerous ways for individuals, small groups, churches, and businesses to help the homeless. Reach out to us today to learn about ways to:
Watch this video to learn more about how First Stop is leading the efforts to combat homelessness in Huntsville.