Firehouse Ministries opens new $5.8 million shelter in Birmingham

Firehouse Ministries opens new $5.8 million shelter in Birmingham
Anne Wright Rygiel, center, executive director of the Firehouse Ministries; Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, center right; Donald Lupo, center left, president of the board of directors for Firehouse, and other city leaders cut the ribbon for the opening of the new Firehouse Ministries shelter. (Erica Wright/The Birmingham Times)

Before the ribbon was cut on the new Firehouse Ministries in downtown Birmingham, 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 today will move into the new $5.8 million, 28,000-square-foot facility at 626 Second Ave. North 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 Council members 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 designated space for disease control, family housing, medical screening rooms, overflow for winter and a chapel for Bible studies or meditation.

The homeless will have the opportunity to 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.”

This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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