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Firehouse Ministries opens multi-million-dollar shelter in downtown

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Anne Wright Rygiel (center), executive director of the Firehouse Ministries; Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin (right), Donald Lupo (left), president of the board of directors for Firehouse with other city leaders cut the ribbon for the opening of the new firehouse shelter on Thursday. (Erica Wright, The Birmingham Times)
By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times

Before the ribbon was cut on the new Firehouse Ministries in downtown Birmingham last week, Executive Director Anne Wright Rygiel had to take one last trip down memory lane.

Rygiel paid a visit to the soon to be vacated old shelter, “our home for the past 36 years and I spent some time contemplating about what it took for us to get from there to here to this exact moment . . . I thought about the staff, then and now… mostly I thought about our guests, thousands and thousands of people who come to the old firehouse shelter to seek refuge from the storm, figuratively and literally.”

The executive director is now looking ahead to brighter days. Firehouse clients moved into a new $5.8 million, 28,000 square-foot facility Feb. 19 at 626 2nd Ave. N. that will accommodate 112 people, more than doubling the current 50-bed space on Third Avenue.

“Today is an incredibly special occasion not just for the Firehouse but for the entire community,” Rygiel said during the ribbon cutting attended by Mayor Randall Woodfin, Birmingham City Councilors and community and civic leaders. “. . . This building allows us to focus on youth ages 18 to 24, women, people that need respite care after they leave the hospital and we’re able to do tiered housing, rewarding people for making some of those really tough decisions along with providing emergency services like our feeding programs, GED programs and we now have a computer lab.”

There is also designated space for disease control, family housing, medical screening rooms, overflow space for the winter, a chapel for Bible studies or meditation.

The homeless will have the opportunity get a meal and a bed, and volunteers who want to participate in case management or be a community leader in the shelter will be eligible for a private space.

“It takes the entire community to end an issue such as homelessness so we’re able to have special parts of our facility to focus on the needs so people can end their episodes of homelessness quickly and get back into the community,” Rygiel said.

Rygiel said she walked through the old building out of respect and homage to all of the people before her.

“This new shelter is hope and love manifested in steel, concrete and brick. This is the shelter our community needs and that our guests and staff deserve,” she said. “This shelter provides the space for collaboration, innovation and every inch of it was built specifically for people experiencing homelessness.”