By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
After a divisive and chaotic meeting last month over funding for the Firehouse Ministries, the Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to award the organization $200,000 over the next five years.
The council voted 6-0-1 to support the funding with Councilor Wardine Alexander abstaining. The council still has two vacancies to fill.
The money will go toward building a new facility at 66 2nd Avenue North which is a few blocks away from the current location at 1501 3rd Avenue North, said Anne Rygiel, executive director of the Firehouse Ministries.
Plans are to break ground on the new facility on December 23, the 35th anniversary of the facility, long known as Firehouse Shelter, she said.
“It’s not just having beds at night to sleep in, it’s about having places for people to be able to come and have a better volunteer experience . . . the cool thing about the new shelter is . . . everyone is treated the same and they’re overcoming so many different issues, so the shelter will allow us to really be able to give individualized care for the first time,” she said.
The shelter hosts about 50-70 men per night and includes programs to help people find homes. The shelter serves lunch and dinner to all men, women and children who need it and feeds approximately 5,000 people a year.
After the groundbreaking the new facility is projected to open at the end of next year and expand from serving 50 men to about 110 each night.
In addition to funding from the city, Rygiel was able to raise more than $4 million in private donations for the new space
Last month, some councilors expressed concern about how some people in the shelters were treated and the meeting turned chaotic, ending in a 4-4 deadlock and no money for the Firehouse.
On Tuesday, Councilor Steven Hoyt said the best way to eradicate homelessness is to “build permanent, affordable housing . . . not temporary housing.”
Rygiel said, “Homelessness is a societal plague that we need to eradicate together. Everyone that works in homelessness, our number one job is to work ourselves out of a job and that is what we do every single day. If it were a business, it would be a pretty sad business, but it’s not. It’s a mission and today we’ve had one piece of our mission fulfilled so I’m so thankful to the city council.”
In other matters, the council authorized the mayor to enter an agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) for the construction of sidewalks, bicycle lanes, crosswalks, landscaping and signage along 22nd Street N., 12th Ave. N., 20th Street N. and F.L. Shuttlesworth Drive.