Every day, many people drive by the Firehouse Shelter on Third Avenue downtown, and see the lines of people waiting to get inside around lunch time. The needs vary, but food, clothing and shelter are the obvious ones.
But, each person is unique. Every person is on a journey they may have never intended on taking -- Or ever dreamed of taking.
When we give up on a group of people, then change is never possible. The Firehouse Mission is certainly about feeding hungry people, but it's about much more, as well.
The Firehouse Shelter is in an old Birmingham fire station downtown and opened as a shelter almost 30 years ago in 1983. The homeless and the hungry can come here as long as they are homeless and hungry.
"There are street homeless and they're out in the community in a variety of places," said Doug Kovash of the Firehouse Shelter. "So meeting their immediate food, shelter and clothing needs is important. You've got to have a starting point."
Inside, those needs are met every day. Nearly 100,000 meals are served here every year. No questions asked, no one turned away. Are you hungry? Then you're welcome.
Walter came to the firehouse mission six years ago. He could not shake his drug addiction and was near what could have only been a very bad ending.
"I guess it was the Lord that ended up sending me there, but since being there I'm going into my sixth year [clean] and it has been the most wonderful six years of my life," Walter said.
It's important to know that the Firehouse Mission has wide-ranging programs designed to help people get their lives together. In Walter's case, kick a drug habit and become happy and productive. Walter lives in a permenant housing facility for men who have proven they can live independently. But, there is transitional housing, too, and men receive employment, education and life skills along with counseling services daily. Walter believes the Firehouse Mission saved his life.
"I had tried many a many times to do something about my addiction but it wasn't until I found the Firehouse Mission that it worked," Walter said.
Anne Wright is the housing coordinator for the many programs at the Firehouse Shelter. She says that homeless men carry a stigma -- Some people think they're homeless and hungry by choice.
"It's easy to ignore the homeless and you're right homeless men don't get a lot of support. People tend to believe that it was their own bad decisions and choices and in some cases it is. But everyone makes mistakes and everyone truly has the capacity and the heart to changed and that's what the Firehouse Mission does, we facilitate change on a very broad holistic scale," Wright explained.
Most of the time real change takes time and it takes patience. It also takes the support of all of the programs that the Firehouse Mission supports. They do it all with the support of the community -- with the financial support of average people in the community, who care that lives are changed and men transformed.
"It would be great if we never see them again -- and really, one day it would be great if I never had this job and you never came down to the homeless shelter. That would be a dream and an ideal and we'll keep working until that day comes," Kovash said.
Anne Wright is an optimistic worker. She's around men all the time who are trying to get their lives back on track.
"Anyone that's looking to support us either financially or volunteering or just in prayer and thought. The money matters, because change is possible and when you start giving up on a group of people, then change isn't possible," Wright said.
Walter knows something about change. He's been clean for six years. He encourages and supports others who are where he used to be.
"I'm glad to be able to share my story because it's a success that I had been looking for so, so many years and now I've found it, "Walter said. "I'm at peace, I'm comfortable and as long as they'll have me I'll be here."
It's something we all hope for, to be at peace with yourself and those around you. It's the business the Firehouse Mission is in. That's the spirit of Alabama.
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