Despite recent changes to programs downtown, one organization uses feeding of the area’s homeless as part of the road to recovery.
Drug and alcohol rehabilitation center Wings of Life feeds the homeless once a week with meals prepared by program residents, minister-in-training Cameron Shaw said during a tour of the facility at 800 St. Louis St.
Doors at the nondenominational Christian center open at 8 a.m. and open for the homeless at 12:30 p.m. The program can be used as a recruitment tool of sorts, said Director Chris Patrick, who is known as “Pastor Chris.”
“They come for a service,” Patrick said. “We talk to them. Some of those people who are homeless eventually say ‘I need help.’”
Wings of Life remains one of the only venues that still feeds the homeless regularly, in addition to the Mobile Rescue Mission. Housing First ceased ancillary services at 15 Place in 2016 and Government Street Presbyterian Church has since stopped serving breakfast to the homeless through its “Coffee Club” ministry.
Patrick said Wings of Life used to feed the homeless Monday through Saturday but stopped weekday service when 15 Place opened. He said he has determined the rehab facility does not have the funds to resume providing meals every weekday.
In addition to providing meals for the homeless and structure for recovering addicts in the program, the meal preparation is also a way the center raises money. Wings of Life sells plates of breakfast and lunch food to workers at Austal and Kimberly Clark, among other businesses, Shaw said.
The center also raises funds through thrift store sales, Patrick said. The thrift store runs on mostly local donations of clothes, furniture and other goods.
Those accepted into the program go through a 90-day, faith-focused course, Shaw said. Men and women are kept separate for the most part, he said, except for married couples, who are allowed to eat together.
Residents wake up at 6 a.m., eat breakfast, exercise and then go to a church service each morning. They then attend jobs given to them by ministers at the facility, Patrick said.
“From laundry to working at the thrift store to the kitchen,” Patrick said. “So, we teach them to be responsible. Some of them need to find that. Work is a four-letter curse word for some people.”
Shaw said the “work-study” program, as it’s called, helps residents transition back into the workforce.
“… If you have to get up early for work … those things will carry you when you leave, graduate and go into the workforce,” Shaw said.
Shaw is one of the facility’s success stories. The Birmingham native struggled with drug addiction for 12 years before finding help. He made his way to Mobile to seek further help for his addiction, but relapsed shortly after arriving.
“I took a Greyhound bus down here, got well for a year and a half and then fell off,” he said. “I was prideful and I thought I did it on my own. I neglected [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings, neglected church and fell off.”
He has been with Wings of Life for more than a year and is currently a student at Bishop State Community College and head of the school’s campus ministry.
“… The power of Christ and this ministry has really helped me,” Shaw said. “It has given me a lot of guidance to pull me out of drug addiction, to now going back to school and soon becoming a minister.”
Shayne Popovich is also a success story. A South Florida native, Popovich found himself without a relationship with either of his two children, an 8-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl. He also spent two years in prison, by his own account.
“I came into this program because I didn’t have nowhere else to go,” Popovich said. “I’ve been clean over a year now.”
Popovich said he met his daughter for the first time on Dec. 2 and the relationship has been blossoming.
“God has restored that, man, and I talk to her every single night I go over there,” he said. “She blows my phone up every single day and it’s like we didn’t go a minute without knowing each other.”
Popovich is now a truck driver for the facility. He picks up and drops off donations for the thrift store. He said he also has a part-time job and has plans to attend a local pipe welders school in the next few months.
Wings of Life offers a helpline for those who need it: 251-333-4800. For more information, visit wings_of_life.com