Zombie Walk benefits local homeless shelters

By on October 7, 2013
Clients patiently wait in the rain for a Sunday evening meal at Firehouse Mens Shelter in Birmingham, AL.

WALKERS WANTED!  Fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead series will have a chance to don their best “bitter” makeup and parade around 5 Points South on Sunday October 13, 2013, for Birmingham’s Feed The Living Organizations Zombie Walk to benefit the Firehouse shelter and their meal program, which feeds nearly 100,000 people annually.

Homelessness has been a challenge for the city of Birmingham for a number of years, most noticeably in the downtown area.  Many of the major businesses began moving out of downtown a few years ago, which compounded the issue.  There are now fewer jobs available in many urban areas, the graduation rate is stagnate, and at one time the number  of homeless living within the Birmingham community swelled to nearly 3,000 men, women, and children.  The cities administration recognized this dilemma and in 2007 adopted a plan that would end homelessness in Birmingham, providing a timeline by which this task would be completed.   While no one anticipated the economic downturn caused by housing bubble crisis, the plan to end homelessness is still moving forward and the number of those homeless in Birmingham has dramatically decreased.

This is due much in part to organizations like Oneroof, an organization dedicated to uniting central Alabama to end homelessness.  They are responsible for coordinating services provided by homeless agencies with a number of partners across the region who connect clients with shelters and service providers in an effort to find temporary and permanent housing, counseling, and help finding medicine and getting treatment for those in need.

One of the local organizations Oneroof partners with is the Firehouse shelter located in downtown Birmingham.

As a UAB student actively involved in volunteering, there is not a day that goes by that I do not meet someone who is experiencing homelessness in our community and often-times a simple hello or a smile seems to brighten their day.  This simple act of kindness means a lot when you come across someone who may be down on his or her luck and feel out-casted from society.  Many homeless individuals did not start out that way.  These men and women grew up just as you and I did, and in most cases had someone who cared for them, but circumstances and choices led them down a path that ultimately changed their lives forever.  The thing that separates someone who is homeless and someone is not homeless, during a lot of periods of our lives, is a stable economic background and a supportive family.  Someone who grows up in a stable family environment— when they make the wrong decision —has a better chance of correcting his or her mistakes than someone who grows up in family whose financial acumen is not at the same level.

Anne Wright, interim director for the Firehouse Men’s Shelter, has worked in public service since she was 17 years old and her passion for the homeless in our community is inspiring.  “We all rise to what is expected of us, Wright said.   “So, if you are use to not being a part of society to where people won’t even look at you, then that is all you are going to rise to and it becomes a part of your identity and you never get better.  90% of the guys that stay at the Firehouse shelter throughout all of our programs are good decent people… their lives went south somewhere and a lot of our guys go on and they find jobs and have families and they are productive.  Everyone has rough spots in their lives, but if people won’t even give them the time of day it make it harder to pull out of that hole.”

While it is helpful and beneficial for us to go out to the local parks and pass out sandwiches or make donations during Christmas and Thanksgiving, what community service centers like Firehouse Shelter and Oneroof need most are volunteers willing to think outside the box and find ways to help that will bring about real change.   “We have our STOP program which is our street outreach for guys who have been on the street for a long time and they don’t trust social workers, they don’t want to come in a shelter,” Wright commented.  “They have been living under bridges, in camps, and abandoned buildings.  So our street outreach goes out and builds rapport with the guys and sometimes it can take 6 months of going out and taking sandwiches and blankets and just always making sure they know there is an alternative.”

Students that are not interested in the hands on approach have a number of other ways they can get involved.  There are students at UAB who have experience with theatre, graphic design, architecture, engineering, international relations, marketing, accounting, advertising, and creative writing who could use their talents in a number of ways to help serve the community.

“Students are encouraged to come down and get engaged, says Wright.  “You don’t always have to serve a meal; we are looking for tutors in reading and math.  We have a new program called Eli project which is a mentoring program for our gentlemen, but if you want to get together with a group of your friends and come serve in the soup kitchen that is a great way to participate.”

A few semesters ago, several students from UAB’s school of Business volunteered with Oneroof creating a new business plan, while a couple of marketing students worked on re-branding the organization.

According to Michelle Farley, Executive Director of Oneroof “We would love to have some architecture students or students interested in social work…even freshman students can come in and answer phones for a couple of hours, do some filing, or even basic cleaning…but in terms of the classes students take, there is not a major out there that we would not figure out a way to help you get involved. Think about your world and what you do and don’t take anything for granted.  I promise you whatever you do can be applicable to someone who is experiencing homelessness or who is teetering on the edge of homelessness.”

Oneroof and Firehouse shelter are just two of the community service organizations in the Birmingham area committed to providing real solutions that benefit those in need.  Whether volunteering is your “thing” or not I encourage all students to take a look at where you are in life and where you would like to be.  Statistics show that the average family is only 1.7 paychecks away from being homeless.  Think about that the next time you see someone who appears they may be without shelter; you do not have to give pan handlers money to appease your conscience, the best thing to do would be to get involved with organizations that already have an established infrastructure and are equipped to meet the needs of these clients.

The benefit walk will feature a Pub Crawl that will proceed from the doors of the lead event sponsor, the Black Market Pub & Grill to Fuego, Cosmo’s Pizza, Sekisui Pacific Rim, World of Beer, and back to the Black Market Pub & Grill at 8 PM. The evening will conclude with the season four premier showing of the Walking Dead from 8-9 PM.

Each restaurant and bar along the Pub Crawl will offer drink and dinner specials, raffles and prizes that will be given away throughout the event. All zombies are asked to make a minimum donation of $10 (with 3 cans of food), or to make a flat donation of $15-$20 on behalf of The Firehouse Shelter.

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