By Karim Shamsi-Basha
Raindrops hammered down on the sidewalk outside of Pathways in downtown Birmingham. Across the street, a homeless man sat under the shelter of a blue tarp. Beside him was all he owned – a couple of plastic bags filled with used clothes and knickknacks, but hope was definitely missing.
Many of the homeless have no shelter from the elements, but for homeless women and children in Birmingham, Pathways provides more than a blue tarp. Pathways Executive Director Carrie Leland not only helps with shelter; her mission is to see clients through to a better life.
“I’ve been working with families in crisis for over 20 years, and one of my most motivating factors is helping people,” Leland said. “It’s something that’s bigger than me and something that puts meaning into the world and will outlast you. On days like today, many of the homeless women and children come in seeking shelter, and hope.”
Pathways is one of the oldest shelters in the city.
“Pathways started in the early ’80s and our first program was our daytime emergency shelter, which we still operate today,” Leland said. “One of our other programs is called Stepping Stones. It is a shelter program of a longer stay than most other programs in the area. Stepping Stones will receive a family or a homeless woman who has been staying at an overnight shelter. It has a ‘housing readiness’ approach, which means they are staying for up to nine months.”
Programs such as Stepping Stones differentiate Pathways from other shelters in Birmingham. Pathways’ mission statement is “Empowering women and children on their path out of homelessness through hospitality, housing and hope.”
There is that word again: “hope.”
“Nine months really gives the family time to focus on the barriers they are facing and the obstacles keeping them in homelessness,” Leland said.
This year, Pathways is developing a program offering childcare for homeless children up to 5 years old. Leland is always applying for grants to help with the costs of programs. The Alabama Power Foundation is among organizations that have supported Pathways.
“At Pathways, we were missing childcare. Childcare that would be at no cost to the families. We will establish this in early 2020,” Leland said. “This kind of program will be the first of its kind in the state.”
Day Center Case Manager Karla Reed Thomas came to Pathways years ago as a homeless woman. Now she has a job and a home for her family. She believes in what Pathways offers.
“I was homeless for a long time when I came to Pathways in 2014. I started back to school when I was in transitional housing and I graduated in October of 2019,” Reed Thomas said. “Pathways gave me access to things like financial literacy classes, educational classes, food and a safe space. I was here at Pathways for about a month while I was getting back on my feet.”
Now Reed Thomas helps homeless women with housing, employment, medical care and other things many people take for granted.
“I wanted to give back what was given to me when I needed it,” Reed Thomas said, smiling.
Such smiles are more commonplace at Pathways than one might expect, given the situations of the residents and guests. Simple hope outshines many complicated facets of homelessness.
Leland sums it up perfectly.
“What has sustained me in this career is that I’ve been aware of the fact that this is so much larger than me. But with hope, all is possible.”
For more information, visit www.pathwayshome.org.