Residents call it “the last house on the block.” Raymond Johnson has been homeless for about a year and half, and he says the Firehouse Shelter is the only place he goes. They help him with housing and substance abuse treatment. “And they also helped me find some help with my mental health issues,” Johnson continues. “So I can get my pills without having to pay for them, because my meds are kind of expensive. One bottle of pills is over $300.”
Johnson has four children and without support from the Firehouse Shelter he wouldn’t be able to provide the financial assistance they need, he says.
The Firehouse Shelter serves thousands of homeless people in Birmingham like Johnson and has been a staple to the community since 1983, but they’ve outgrown their home on Third Ave. N. and are working on moving to a bigger facility.
“We’re really looking for a building to restore dignity and respect to the homeless in Birmingham,” says Anne Wright, executive director of the shelter.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development there are more than 1,100 homeless people in the Birmingham metro area on any given night. The Firehouse Shelter is serving close to 4,000 a year and the building has become unsafe according to Wright. She says two years ago a woman ran a red light in front of the shelter and hit four clients that were standing on the sidewalk.
The new building on Second Ave. N. is built entirely around a courtyard so clients can enjoy the outdoors in privacy and safety. The facility will also feature a library, expanded dormitories, meditation space, and a chapel for people to attend worship.
“We’re really looking at the needs of Birmingha, and working to identify it and meet those needs in a compassionate cost effective way,” Wright adds.
Residents and Firehouse staff hope the new $7.8 million shelter will relieve overcrowding, but Wright says it’s going to be a long journey. It’s a decade-long project, and they are only about two years in.