Help raise $1m to build the Way Station, Birmingham’s only shelter for homeless youth

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the Way Station, AIDS Alabama
An artist’s sketch of the entrance to the Way Station, courtesy of AIDS Alabama.

Did you know that Alabama has the fourth-highest rate of “unaccompanied, homeless youth without shelter” in the country? To help solve this problem, AIDS Alabama has already raised over $600k out of a total $1.5 million needed. They’re getting ready to build the Way Station, Birmingham’s only emergency overnight shelter for homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth.

Keep reading to find out why the Way Station is a game-changer. Help AIDS Alabama reach their goal—donate here, and be sure to designate the Way Station.

1. What is AIDS Alabama?

AIDS Alabama's Ascension social workers
AIDS Alabama’s Ascension (youth rapid-rehousing program) social workers ran into Stacey Abrams and Mayor Randall Woodfin at Dining Out for Life partner Yo Mama’s restaurant back in June, 2019.

AIDS Alabama is a nonprofit …nonprofit with a 33-year history in Birmingham serving some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens. They provide housing and supportive services for people and families in Birmingham who are living with, affected by—or at risk of—HIV.

Not only are they the largest AIDS Service Organization in Alabama, but they’re the only one whose primary focus is housing. 

Of course, if you’re a Bham Now reader, you may know them from some of their fun fundraising events like Dining Out for Life, Funky Food Truck Festival, Art Alive! or Christmas is a Drag

Clearly, they’re an organization that infuses creativity, community, food, and fun into the really good work they do on some hard issues. 

2. What is the Way Station?

rendering of the front of the Way Station
Rendering of the front of the Way Station, courtesy of AIDS Alabama

The Way Station will be an emergency overnight shelter for homeless, runaway and at-risk youth in Birmingham. Plus, it’ll have a transitional housing program for older youth, ages 16-24. 

AIDS Alabama has broken ground and is making way for this new and much-needed refuge.

Where will The Way Station be?

If you head north from Regions Field to 3rd Avenue North, then west toward Family Court, you’ll be really close to the future site of the Way Station. They’ll have to figure out which of the four parcels of land they bought on July 2, 2018, to use for their mailing address: 

  • 624, 644, and 650 3rd Avenue North 
  • 334 7th Street North

The site is five blocks west of I-65 and about a mile west of the Alabama Theatre.

What will happen at the Way Station?

More than just a safe place for vulnerable youth to sleep at night, the Way Station will also provide much-needed supportive services, meals, warm beds and showers, and a whole lot of love and understanding. Here are some of the planned program and services:

  1. Basic Shelter—30-60 days’ worth of housing with crisis intervention services for minors and older youth. These include counseling, helping youth reunite with their families or emancipate from them, depending on what is appropriate in the situation, and aftercare. 
  2. Transitional Housing—housing for up to two years plus services for homeless 16- to 24-year-olds. Services include enrollment in Birmingham City Schools or GED programs, financial literacy, job-readiness skills and health care. 
  3.  Permanent Housing—through an existing Rapid Re-Housing program.

Want to help homeless, runaway or at-risk youth in Birmingham? Support the Way Station (be sure to designate the Way Station when you make your donation).

3. Why a shelter for homeless youth?

Aerial view of the future site of the Way Station
Aerial View of the future site of the Way Station, courtesy of AIDS Alabama

With a high ranking no one wants to earn, Alabama ranks 4th in the nation with the number of “unaccompanied and unsheltered” homeless youth. That means there are young people out there under the age of 25 not traveling with someone older than they are. And being unsheltered means these young people are living and sleeping in a car, a tent, a structure with no utilities, or on a park bench.

Last January 22, when HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) did a Point In Time count, there were 320 unaccompanied youth reported in the state. 68% of those youth reported sleeping unsheltered.

If that wasn’t enough, Alabama had the largest one-year increase in unaccompanied homeless youth. That 2019 count represents a 102.5% or 162-person increase on a trend that’s been moving steadily upward for the last few years. 

That is a lot of young people living precariously without basic needs or support. 

Right now, if you’re a homeless young person in Birmingham, there’s no shelter just for you. The biggest reason this matters is safety—physical and emotional abuse and theft are real risks these youth face in adult shelters. 

The Way Station will help.

Here’s what Caroline Bundy of AIDS Alabama had to say about how the Way Station will make a difference: 

“The Way Station will fill a gap that is necessary to the health, safety, and well-being of these young people and start them on their way to a sustainable life as productive adults.

Many people believe that Birmingham and other large cities have issues only with adult homelessness. 

What these people should know is that our homeless youth are sometimes hiding in plain sight. Many of them go to school. That’s where they stay warm and eat at least twice a day. Others hide—from danger or from being found and sent back to an unhealthy situation from which they ran. 

Also, knowing the extremely high-risk for trafficking and exploitation to which these youth are subject, the Way Station will be a powerful way to remove these youth from the street and from dangerous situations and into safe shelter and eventually housing stability.” 

Caroline Bundy, Development Director at AIDS Alabama

4. How will the Way Station make a difference? 

Site plan for the Way Station
Site plan for the Way Station, courtesy of AIDS Alabama

Well, first of all, it’s good to have a place to stay if you’re a young person that for whatever reason needs to get out of a bad living situation. Even better if that place is safe and helps you avoid sexual victimization and trafficking. 

The Way Station plans do the following, according to Bundy: 

5. You can help make the Way Station a reality

Dollars
Dollars” by 401(k)2012. CC BY-SA 2.0

Birmingham leaders have been super-generous in their support for the Way Station, but there is more to go. In fact, AIDS Alabama has already raised $1,227,007. Here’s the breakdown: 

  • $637,205 for the capital campaign (including the 2018 purchase of the property)
  • $589,802 from HUD (for operating expenses)

Some well-known leaders in Birmingham have written letters of support, including:

If we had a picture of one of those fund-raising thermometers, the bottom third of the thermometer would be colored in, with the top two-thirds to go. If you prefer actual numbers, the current goal is $862,795.

Our hope is that the people of Birmingham who love Birmingham, who want to see our city grow and stand out as a beacon of hope for young people in distress, will find it in their hearts to give to the Way Station.

Caroline Bundy, AIDS Alabama

There are three easy ways to give to The Way Station: 

  1. Donate now and be sure to designate funds for the Way Station. 
  2. If you’re more old-school, you can mail a check to AIDS Alabama | attn. Caroline Bundy | 3529 7th Ave. S. | Birmingham, AL 35222. Write the Way Station in the memo line.
  3. Finally, you can reach out to caroline.bundy@aidsalabama.org if you would like to donate in another way. 

Now tell us, Birmingham, what do you think about the plan for our state’s first-ever overnight shelter for homeless, at risk and runaway youth? Tag us on social @bhamnow and let us know.

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