Volunteers from The Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless and the Friendship Mission Church are teaming up to fight homelessness.
CBS 8 News Reporter Ashley Thompson followed volunteers as they drove to some of Montgomery's poorest areas looking for those living on the streets. Doing this gives the volunteers an idea of just how many people may be homeless.
Four vans filled with hygiene kits, sack lunches, blankets, and jackets headed in four separate directions. They traveled up and down Mobile Highway searching for people living in abandoned gas stations, hotels, motels, and restaurants. At one stop we found Clayton Wilson who's been homeless for four years. He was grateful to see us.
"I appreciate it," says Wilson. "It's been a blessing to me. They look out for the homeless very well."
In each van was a 'guide,' someone who now lives at the Friendship Mission Church shelter but was once homeless. Robert Thomas, who goes by Catfish, has been one for 4 years. He says he can relate to those in the abandoned buildings because at one time he too was there.
"I've rubbed shoulders with a lot of these guys, these women," says Catfish. "For the last 25 years, I've been on this Mobile Highway, Southern Boulevard. I've done the worst of it. I've been up I've been down."
Volunteers from the church and the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless interviewed each homeless person they encountered, asking them questions like how long they've been on the streets, their medical condition, and any known personal identification. Molly Stone of MACH says the information is necessary.
"We use that data to help us identify the needs of the community and help us identify if there are any gaps in services. We can make sure that we're providing the services that people need," she says.
And according to Pastor Vince Rosato, one of the most important services is feeding those who are hungry.
"One thing that the people of Montgomery don't know, the city of Montgomery is you got a lot of homeless people but you got a lot of hungry people," says Rosato. "Hunger is a real issue."
Catfish credits The Friendship Mission Church for getting him off of the streets. He says they gave him a chance when no one else would. And now says he feels obligated to serve those who he once could relate to and promote a message of hope.
"If I can turn around, one of the worst of them...I'm sure anybody can," he says. "This is life. This is a journey. There's going to be struggle but you know, there is a way. And that way is God."
The church has been doing this annually for about 8 years. A lot of the homeless we encountered were excited to see the vans driving around because they knew they would get food and whatever other resources they needed.
The Mid-Alabama Coalition told us they will not have the exact count of the homeless for several days.
If you are in need of services or resources, The Coalition for the homeless encourages you to call 211, a call center that helps connect people with services.