On a cold December night about thirty women busy themselves on the second floor of the First Light Shelter in Birmingham. They shower, do laundry, watch television together. For the last several months this large, open room with its rows of beds and lockers have been home.
First Light is an emergency shelter for women and children in the city. On top of the thirty-some women on the second floor, typically staying about three months, there’s an overflow shelter in what doubles as the lunch room during the day. It is a bright, airy building — the majority of its residents suffering from some form of mental illness. Among them, Phyllis Patterson.
Patterson lived on the streets for twenty-three years. Strung out on drugs she prostituted for the money and, later, just to get a fix. She battles demons from her childhood and major depression. On the street she says she looked to the drugs to make her feel better. Since coming to First Light, Patterson’s been on medication to help her cope with her depression and anger. She’s also slowly coming to terms with her past. She says, for the first time in a long while she feels whole and human. You can hear Patterson tell her story by clicking the audio link above.