About the Guests: Who are they?
The age of the women ranges from 19 through the 80s; the women may have advanced degrees or they may be illiterate; they may have come from a life of poverty or from an affluent family; they may be chronically homeless or they may have recently experienced a crisis; they may come to us from a hospital or prison or they may have recently been evicted from their home or apartment; they may suffer from mental illness, an addiction to drugs or alcohol, a physical or mental disability, but most likely suffer from a combination of all of these. Most have known some kind of abuse. On average, 60% of the guests are African American and 40% are Caucasian. Women and children come to First Light from all over the city, state and country.
About the Guests: A typical day
Guests rise at 6am during the week and at 7am on the weekend and prepare themselves for the day. Breakfast begins 30 minutes after the wake-up call. Immediately after breakfast, chores are completed (each chore takes no more than 5-10 minutes to complete). Overflow guests are expected to stay and talk to a Social Worker before leaving the premises. Emergency shelter guests typically head off for doctor’s appointments, work, job searches, group meetings, or other day programs. Some of the women have appointments with their assigned Social Worker as they assess progress and their goals. Curfew is at 6pm and dinner is served by volunteers at 6:30pm. After dinner, night chores are completed. Emergency shelter guests return to the second floor, take their showers, wash laundry, and settle in for the night. Overflow shelter guests move the dining room tables, get their mats and clean linens and prepare for a night's sleep on the floor. All lights go out at 9:30pm and bed time is at 10pm.
On Sundays, many of the women are picked up by a friend, family member or by local church buses to go to church.
About the Facility
First Light is the only full-time 24 hour emergency shelter for women and children in Birmingham and surrounding areas.
First Light is currently located in downtown Birmingham in a fully renovated 4-story building. The shelter has been in this building since May of 2000 and previously operated in the basement of First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
The glass door entry allows for easy visibility to see in and to see out. While we want to protect the safety and security of our guests, we want to see when someone is knocking on our door for help. We provide a security staff from 8pm-7am. These female guards monitor all activity in the building and let women in after hours and in the middle of the night.
The emergency shelter is a dorm-like environment with 4 washers and 4 dryers, 6 shower stalls with handicap accessibility, a private family room, a private room and bathroom for overnight volunteers and a smoking room for guests.
We have a fully stocked commercial kitchen for volunteers preparing and serving meals.
About our Staff
We currently have an Executive Director, Assistant Director, Director of Social Services, Volunteer Manager, Receptionist, 4 Social Workers, an Art Therapy Coordinator, a Weekend Supervisor, and 3 Shelter Assistants.
All staff members are full-time with the exception of the Art Therapy Coordinator, Shelter Assistants, and Weekend Supervisor.
Social Workers are present from 8am-8pm during the week and are on call on the weekends.
About our Volunteers
Our volunteers serve an average of 800 volunteer hours per month!
First Light’s volunteers bring and serve dinner every night, stay overnight in the emergency shelter every night, conduct Bible Studies and fun group activities, take the women to football games and ballets, take care of the flowers on the courtyard, donate all toiletries, over-the-counter medicines, linens and blankets given to our guests… the list could go on for days! Our volunteers are awesome!
Anyone can volunteer at First Light! You can jump right into one of our established volunteer programs or come up with your own.
About our Support
In 2007, First Light raised 25% of its income through fundraising efforts (the largest of which is the First Light Gala).
While about 50% of our revenue does come from grants received from government, corporate, foundation and civic organizations, First Light would not survive without the many individuals, churches, businesses and civic organizations that support us on a regular basis.
You can help support the homeless women and children at First Light! Visit Ways to Support Us or Donate Now!
About Our Community
The following information was provided to us by Metropolitan Birmingham Services for the Homeless. The data below is the product of 2 studies: a point-in-time count conducted on January 30, 2007 and an hour-long survey of 161 homeless adults conducted by the UAB Sociology Department between April 4 and May 25, 2006.
Approximately 2,428 persons are estimated to be homeless in the Birmingham area.
Seventy percent of the homeless are men, 30% are women.
Sixty-eight percent are African-American/Black and 31% Caucasian/White, with the remaining 1% of other race/ethnic categories. Less than 2% of respondents are Hispanic.
Median monthly income has declined significantly between 1995 and 2006 from $275 earlier to $200 now. The number with no income doubled between 1995 and 2000.
The median time spent homeless is 8 months.
Twenty-nine percent of Birmingham area homeless fit the HUD definition of chronically homeless. An additional 6.7 % of persons can be defined as “other chronic” (accompanied persons with a disability who also meet the time requirements for a chronic condition).
Ninety-one percent report experiencing at least one undesirable life event over the last year. The most common events are job loss, death of a close friend, family member or partner, physical abuse, or problems with a spouse or partner.
Over one-third lost a job in the last year. Health is a major contributing factor in the majority of people not working.
Homeless victims of crime tend to know their attackers, and the perpetrators are often other homeless people. Distrust among the homeless is high, and a disproportionate number of homeless people carry a weapon for protection.
Fifty percent are members of a church or spiritual community.
Ninety-one percent say that religion is very important in their lives, a figure identical to Birmingham ’s general population.
The two most common forms of group participation, other than religious-related activities, are support groups such as addiction recovery, health or mental health-related groups (54%), and the Homeless Coalition (26%).
Homelessness affects health. Thirty percent say that since not having their own place, they get sick more often and 56% say that staying healthy is much harder since being homeless.
An unusually high percentage of homeless respondents (36%) had been hospitalized since homeless.
Fifty-four percent indicate that since homeless there have been times when they needed a doctor but could not go to one, and 55% agreed they would go to the doctor more often if they had their own place. Inability to pay and lack of transportation were the main reasons cited for not going.
Fifty-five percent say that alcohol has caused a problem in their life, 78% of these have been through a detox program. Eleven percent of the sample report currently using drugs other than alcohol.
The homeless population is vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. Of 105 sexually active respondents, 40% never used a condom and only 30% always used one. Thus, 70 percent of sexually active homeless people practice "unsafe sex."
One-third report having been told by a doctor sometime in their lives that they have a mental illness. Nearly half report having some problem with mental illness in their lifetime.
Twenty-one percent report having an episode that landed them in a mental hospital. Seventy-two percent of those who had been in a mental hospital had also been in an alcohol detox program, and 53% of those who had been in a mental hospital had been in a drug detox program. Comorbidity is thus a significant issue.
Thirty-six percent of respondents report considering suicide, 31% actually tried to commit suicide, and 45% of those individuals had made an attempt since being homeless.