5 people overdose outside Alabama church that ministers to homeless

People stand outside the Church of the Reconciler, a United Methodist congregation in Birmingham, Alabama.
People stand outside the Church of the Reconciler, a United Methodist congregation in Birmingham, Alabama. | Screenshot: Google Street View

Five people almost died on Wednesday night outside the Church of the Reconciler United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, after experiencing drug overdoses, officials have confirmed.

"It was reported that multiple people were complaining of being sick and five people were transported to area hospitals," the church, co-pastored by Revs. Adam Burns and Sarah Smoot, wrote in a statement posted to Facebook Thursday. "We understand the sickness our beloved community members were battling … was the disease of addiction. Five people nearly lost their battles with this terrible disease and experienced overdoses."

Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service confirmed responding to a report of multiple people feeling sick at the church, which specializes in outreach to Birmingham's homeless community, at around 9 p.m. in the 100 block of 14th Street North, reports.

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Four of the overdose victims were taken to UAB Hospital, while the fifth person was transported to Princeton Baptist Medical Center.

Church officials said members of the community helped prevent fatalities as they were quick to call 911 and support of the victims.

"It was not reported how quickly, and valiantly other community members responded to the life threatening situation. Because of their calls to 911 and care given until the paramedics arrived, each person experiencing an overdose was given a chance to survive," the church statement reads.

The church was unaware of the current health status of the overdose victims.

"We will keep them in our prayers and hope that they enter long term recovery very soon," the church added.

Provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics show that there were an estimated 107,543 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 2023, a 3% decrease from the 111,029 deaths estimated in 2022.

It is the first annual decrease in drug overdose deaths in the U.S. since 2018.

In recent years, however, agency data has shown an increase in overdose deaths in Alabama, WKRG reported.

In 2019, the state had nearly 800 drug overdose deaths.  That number increased to 1,029 in 2020 and 1,408 in 2012. Nearly 70% of those drug overdose deaths were attributed to opioid use.

At least one critic of the Church of the Reconciler accused it of being a haven for drug addicts and prostitutes.

The church admitted in its statement that the property attracts many people from vulnerable populations because of services they provide for people in need such as their meal program and other ministries.

"We at Church of the Reconciler UMC do not believe that prayers are enough and that is why we welcome all people experiencing the consequences of poverty into our ministry. We do not tell people that are usually thought of as problems and eyesores in the downtown community to leave our property," the church noted. "Instead, we open our doors Monday through Thursday from 9am until 2pm to form relationships with the most vulnerable in downtown Birmingham so that we are trusted to help people begin the journey of recovery."

Church officials suggested that critics who don't want to see the homeless in the neighborhood should try investing their time in helping to minister to them so they can improve their lives.

"If you are tired of seeing homeless people in downtown Birmingham like we are, then we invite you to give of your time to offer positive and encouraging relationships to people struggling with the consequences of poverty," the church said.

"Our community is a rich, untapped resource of hardworking, resilient people who are ready to contribute to the magic of this city. Come discover what's preventing them from moving forward. You may be the one that inspires the call to the Recovery Resource Center for someone in our community. We want to see people thrive and flourish in life, and we hope you'll join us in this meaningful work."

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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