Firehouse shelter groundbreaking sheds light on homelessness in Birmingham


Officials with the state of Alabama Department of Labor just announced a record-breaking number of jobs.

Despite those numbers, many in Central Alabama remain homeless.

Using data from One Roof, as many as 1,400 people are homeless and live in Downtown Birmingham alone.

At Friday's Firehouse Ministries Shelter groundbreaking those who work with the homeless told ABC 33/40 the low unemployment numbers do not tell the whole story.

What's missing? The statistics don't take into consideration the homeless who are looking for work...but for a variety of reasons have yet to connect with a job.

The Firehouse Ministries Shelter broke ground on a new facility that will double its capacity to get people in off the streets.

One man remembers the day the shelter welcomed him.

Melvin Harris told ABC 33/40, “Today is a great day for me. Twenty-five years ago I entered the Firehouse Shelter from the streets of Birmingham, homeless here in this city.”

Harris says he is one person who has taken misery and made something out of it for others.

“Being the oldest and longest tenured staff member there, I’ve been able to be a blessing to those who blessed me in the beginning,” says Harris.

Alabama Dept. of Labor statistics reveal 2,128,082 workers have jobs in this state, but Firehouse Executive Director Anne Rygiel says those figures can be misleading.

“So the good unemployment rate can be a little bit deceiving because oftentimes that does not reflect people who are not in the workforce looking for jobs,” Rygiel says.

The Firehouse Shelter doesn't do it alone. The Jimmie Hale Mission center offers soft skills and job readiness training. And at the Salvation Army, the homeless receive help transitioning into home life.

At the Firehouse Shelter Harris says someone looking to complete a GED and find work can get the hand up they need.

“Because it is going to take this city, the city of Birmingham, to help our homeless. And the way we can help them is by giving them the opportunity to be a better citizen so that they can help this city and not take from it like we once did,” says Harris.

If you go beyond, the new facility will not only double the capacity to 112 beds, it will offer more resources for healthcare and options for people looking for a leg up in the real world.

Rygiel says those numbers only count the heads they find on the streets one time a year.

And often it can be in January, when some may be staying with friends and family who are out of the cold.

From their count, the amount of homeless people can reach closer to 5,000.

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