Jessica Evans recalls a time in her life when other than the roof over her head, she was essentially living like a person experiencing homelessness. At times in her young-adult life, she was without electricity or often didn’t know where her next meal would come from.
Evans has relied on food stamps and other services to survive- things that a lot of people she now serves need.
“I have been in situations where I could have been kicked out if it weren’t for the help I was given,” Jessica said.
Now, Jessica is happy to be working in a position that allows her to be the one giving help. Coming from a place where people did not necessarily receive the help they needed, Jessica is striving to be that person as CAP’s Street Outreach Advocate in Birmingham’s City Center.
When she first heard the job description, the thought brought tears to her eyes. She spent years longing to have a job where she could serve a greater purpose.
“I have always had the desire to help people,” Jessica said, “and I hope I have the patience, resources and kindness to be the best outreach person I can be. It’s hard to talk through something that you have not been through, so I can meet them eye to eye and gain their trust.”
On an average day, Evans spends a few hours on the streets talking with people. Whether she is talking to someone experiencing homelessness or Birmingham’s mayor, Jessica greets each person with the same enthusiasm and kindness.
“When I talk to people, I tell them I do not know magic. I can’t make anything happen overnight, but if you give me a chance and show me that you are serious, I am going to do everything in my power to get you to the next step of leaving homelessness,” Jessica said.
Jessica’s cheerful personality invites those she helps to be open with her as she spends time getting to know them. She talks to five or six “regulars” daily and has touched base with as many as 20 people on a day when Birmingham opened a warming station. Some need or want only an immediate service such as a pair of pants or a snack. Some she may never see again; others she is forming long term relationships with.
“My goal is to let these people know that anything I can do I will.”
As Jessica begins to discuss specific cases, her grin grows to a contagious smile that reflects the joy she finds in her work.
Most shelters are designed to house women and children or men – not all three together. For months, a husband, wife and son in Birmingham remained homeless, not wanting their family to be separated. Jessica was able to find one shelter for the wife and child and another within walking distance for the husband. Jessica then helped the family apply for more permanent housing so they will soon be able to live together again.
“You learn the people that you are going to be on a journey with or the people that need immediate service,” Jessica said. “My goal is to let these people know that anything I can do I will.
“Sometimes it is just being able to sit there and listen. They may have a plan, but they have 50 things running around in their head such as, it’s freezing outside, where am I going to sleep, what am I going to eat, I’m in pain, I can’t get to the doctor – it’s mind-boggling.”
Since she started at CAP in early January, Jessica has already made contact with hundreds of people experiencing homelessness. Back in the CAP office, she keeps important forms she is working on pinned to the wall above her desk as both a reminder to herself and as encouragement to those she is helping.
“I am working on different requests for all of these people that include applications to shelters, medicine, housing, Work Your Way Home and accommodations for those with disabilities,” Jessica said.
But Jessica doesn’t mind the paperwork, because she knows how much people will benefit – just as she once did.
“I want to be that person people say gave them a chance,” Jessica said. “There were several people who did that for me in my life, and I hope these people will go out and do what I’m doing now with the chances given to them.”
Do you know someone who needs Jessica’s help? Call CAP at 205-251-0111 or tell the person to stop by CAP’s office at 1704 5th Avenue North. Learn more about CAP at capisdowntown.com, and follow CAP on Facebook and Instagram!
Join Young Pioneers of Birmingham, in support of REV Birmingham, on Thursday, June 6 for a discussion about the Importance of Place with the Alabama Futures Fund, hosted at downtown Birmingham’s brand new Harvest Market!