Changed Lives Christian Center
The Changed Lives Christian Center is a proposed 142-bed homeless shelter proposed by a coalition of church groups led by Ken Sanford. It would provide counseling, education, job training and employment in addition to meals, overnight shelter and longer-term residence. The shelter plans to operate non-profit carpentry, painting and landscaping businesses that would employ residents. Program participants would be required to deposit some of their earnings into savings accounts and to pay rent to the center. Changed Lives has discussed partnerships with the Literacy Council, Christian Service Mission, M-Power Ministries, Operation New Birmingham and Habitat for Humanity in planning their programs. Sanford developed the idea for the shelter after spending time working with The Nest, a group that provides food for homeless under I-20/59.
The center originally planned to renovate an existing warehouse at 32nd Street and 6th Avenue North in North Avondale. With the support of the North Avondale Neighborhood Association, the project won a $2 million commitment from the Birmingham City Council in October 2007. The city would use federal grant money to fund the purchase and renovations to the warehouse facility. Operational funding would come entirely from grants, donations, rent paid and contracted work.
The North Avondale site for the proposed shelter was selected because of its access to downtown medical and social services and its distance from residential neighborhoods. Rezoning of the industrial site was opposed by nearby business owners, however, citing conditions in the area which make it uncomfortable or even unsafe for residents. During a March 2008 hearing on rezoning the property, Bermco Aluminum founder Fred Berman offered a 14-acre property in the Acipco-Finley neighborhood as an alternative. The rezoning request was tabled while representatives of Changed Lives Christian Center toured the property.
In July 2008 Rhonda Marshall was hired as the center's executive director and the donation of the Acipco-Finley site was completed. Place Design Studio is working on plans for a two-story, dormitory style residence for up to 150 homeless men, who will be able to stay for up to two years as they complete job training. The entrance to the site, at 1308 26th Avenue North, will be landscaped with a walking track and community garden. The Church of the Reconciler, under pressure to move its homeless services away from the 14th Street South corridor, may relocate to the site as well. Their programs focus on the chronically homeless who are less capable of transitioning to employment due to physical and mental-illnesses.
A groundbreaking was held at the site on June 25, 2009. Some residents have spoken in opposition to the center's plans, saying that Finley Avenue is already a drug and prostitution market and that the presence of a rehabilitation center would only degrade the neighborhood.
- Bryant, Joseph D. (March 19, 2008) "Homeless shelter organizers, business owners reach compromise." Birmingham News
- Spencer, Thomas (March 17, 2008) "Controversial homeless shelter plan heads to city council." Birmingham News
- Blalock, Bob (October 7, 2007) "Changed Lives intent on changing lives of homeless." Birmingham News
- Kertesz, Stefan G. (October 28, 2007) "Let's do something on homelessness." Birmingham News
- Garrison, Greg (August 17, 2008) "Downtown Birmingham homeless shelter closer to establishing transitional home near Acipco." Birmingham News
- Changed Lives video on YouTube.com