BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin told city councilors Tuesday morning that no residents facing homelessness will be displaced during the World Games.
Woodfin’s statement reflects a major shift in communication regarding the homeless community and the games, which will be held throughout the city from July 7-17.
Previously, city and World Games officials had confirmed that some individuals facing homelessness would be displaced by the Games’ security perimeter.
Still, Woodfin repeatedly called reports about the displacement “misinformation,” suggesting that the claim is “simply not true.”
“To make myself very clear – and to clarify all this misinformation that’s been out there – the City of Birmingham, the World Games, BPD, or anyone else is displacing or forcing or evicting or putting anyone out of any public space in our community because that is simply not true,” the mayor said.
Woodfin’s comments come just days after a coalition of nonprofit groups announced that they would not meet their goal of providing 40 to 50 “microshelters” to temporarily house some individuals displaced by the World Games. The project had faced criticism from nationally-renowned experts, local nonprofit leaders and those who have experienced street homelessness here in Birmingham, who criticized the effort’s temporary impact and questioned its intent.
The project was set to be funded by City of Birmingham to the tune of $200,000 through taxpayer dollars provided to the World Games, according to both city and games officials.
Initially, the Birmingham City Council closely associated itself with the project.
“Due to security around the World Games, some of our population experiencing homelessness could be displaced,” the council said in a social media post. “These shelter’s (sic) could provide them with options for places to stay.”
City Councilor Crystal Smitherman appeared in a video accompanying the May 18 post, calling the effort “a pilot program with the City of Birmingham and the World Games.”
Smitherman told CBS 42 that the project had stemmed from a question she’d asked Mayor Woodfin in planning meetings: “What are you doing for the homeless during the World Games?” After that conversation, the so-called “Compassion Project” moved forward with city support.
As criticism for the “Compassion Project” grew, however, officials began distancing themselves from it. At a recent meeting announcing that the effort to build microshelters in time for the games had been scrapped, organizers read statements that framed the project as “citizen-led.”
“This is not a project of the City of Birmingham,” one participant told the public and members of the media. “This is not a project of the World Games.”
Michelle Farley is the head of One Roof, the nonprofit organization tasked with providing services to the region’s homeless community. She said that, in the end, the solution for those living on the streets is straightforward, and it doesn’t involve temporary “microshelters,” which Farley said cannot provide people with the dignity they deserve.
“They need permanent supportive housing,” Farley said. “But the money has not been there for the type of safe, decent, and affordable housing that we need.”
The City of Birmingham issued a press release Tuesday afternoon stating they are offering food, cooling and shelter options for those who will need it.
A cooling shelter will open for all from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. from July 7-17 at the Eighth Avenue Fitness Center, located at 421 Reverend Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd. across from Parker High School. Sleeping cots, cool water and snacks will be provided at this location.
Shelter will also be provided at the following Birmingham locations in collaboration with One Roof:
- The Salvation Army, 2015 26th Ave. North
- The Firehouse Shelter, 626 Second Ave. North (men only)
- First Light Shelter, 2230 Fourth Ave. North (women only)
The Compassion Project, located at 921 Second Ave. North, will offer day services that include three meals a day, medical and mental health services, entertainment and recreation.