Local college students launch ministry to Birmingham’s homeless population

Local college students launch ministry to Birmingham’s homeless population

Three 19-year-olds who met at Thompson High School in Alabaster found their hearts touched by the plight of Birmingham’s homeless population and have joined forces to help.

“I moved to the UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) campus last year,” said Kayla Haller. “I guess I’d never seen or even thought about homeless people until I met a man who had nothing. I gave him the 70 cents I had in hand. He was so grateful. You’d have thought I gave him $70. He said, ‘God bless you,’ and he meant every word of it.”

Haller, a member of Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, and a psychology and criminal justice major, volunteered to help a church that operates a soup kitchen and learned more about the plight of the homeless.

“A man ate with us and then he asked if he could take a few packs of crackers with him,” she said. “He told us he had a jar of peanut butter and could use the crackers to make another meal. That’s all he had.”

‘Great ministry’

Haller’s friend, Graisi Smith, an early education major at UAB, said she met the homeless through her church, Hunter Street Baptist, when they sponsored trips to Jimmie Hale Mission and Jesse’s Place. Additionally an employee at the bank where her dad works in downtown Birmingham sponsors a lunch on Fridays in Lynn Park.

“I’ve worked with her and this too has been a great ministry,” she said. “Often other people offer to help and some vending companies have donated the older products they replace in their machines. I felt drawn to this kind of ministry and Kayla and I began to plan what we could do.”

The third friend, Tyger Quarles, a student at Vanderbilt University, was able to secure the help of his church, the Christian Life Church on Valleydale Road, for storage and the “packing party” was held there this summer.

“We purchased drawstring back packs and filled them with hygiene items, nonperishable snacks, reusable water bottles, Bibles and personal notes,” Haller said. 

“[Alabama’s] homeless are located primarily in Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham, and some believe as many as 4,000 are [living] in Birmingham,” she said. 

“You might not see them on the busiest of streets since they seek out areas without much traffic. They seek shelter under overpasses and bridges and use trees to dry their clothes after it rains.”

Haller said winter is especially hard for the homeless. The BJCC in downtown Birmingham offers winter shelter at night when temperatures drop to a certain level, but the shelter is only for the night. 

“Other than this they fend for themselves in the weather,” she said.

Haller said she and her friends have learned more about the cycle of homelessness.

‘Sincere gratitude’

“Some homeless have mental issues of course. Some are veterans who need medication and they don’t have it,” Haller said. “Many wish to work but they don’t have resumés or clothes or contact addresses so this process is stymied. What we dream about is a job center where we offer resumé-building assistance, provide contact addresses and telephone numbers and perhaps include shower rooms for hygiene.”

Haller said the trio has never felt threatened in their interactions with the homeless, only appreciation from those they are helping.

“All I’ve seen is sincere gratitude that somebody cared about them,” she said. “And Jesus told us that caring for people in need is like caring for Him.”

The trio formed the “Hope To Homeless” ministry, or “H2H,” and are happy to talk with local churches about their vision and the need for additional ministry.

H2H has a Facebook page and an Instagram account (hopetohomelessbham). The ministry can be contacted by email at hopehomelessoutreach@gmail.com.