BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Following criticism from nationally-renowned experts, local nonprofit leaders and those who have experienced street homelessness here in Birmingham, a coalition of organizations supported by the City of Birmingham and the World Games has dropped its plan to temporarily house residents facing homelessness displaced by the security perimeter of the games in so-called “microshelters.”
At a press briefing and “public discussion” announced Wednesday evening and held Thursday morning, representatives of the coalition behind what they call the “Compassion Project” said they had not met their goal of having around 40-50 “microshelters” built for some of those displaced by the games.
“To get from a time set for delivering shelters in four months that are suitable for habitation was always an extremely ambitious goal,” Bruce Lanier, an architect associated with the project, said at the meeting. “This morning, I’m here to tell you that we did not meet that goal. In fact, no one will be sleeping in the structures constructed during this pilot project during the World Games at all.”
City and World Games officials have distanced themselves from the project over time, and speakers at Thursday’s meeting emphasized that the project was “citizen-led.” Up to $200,000 for the project, though, had been set to come from the $3 million provided by the City of Birmingham to the World Games, according to Kathy Boswell, a representative of the World Games.
“It’s good that the games may be able to leverage a possibility toward something that can reduce homelessness,” Boswell had previously said of the project. “But homelessness was here before the games, and it will be here after the games.”
Lanier said that he’d been monitoring temperatures inside the structures, which were not designed to be occupied during hot daytime hours. He said the temperatures tracked with the outdoor temperature. Last night, Lanier said, he slept in the structure.
“For what it is, it was fine,” he said. “We’re learning. We’re testing them. We’re trying to make them better.”
Initially, Kathy Boswell told members of One Roof, Birmingham’s largest homelessness service provider, that battery-operated fans would be used to improve ventilation and cool the microshelters.
On Thursday, Lanier said that designers made the decision that air conditioners would be necessary.
“We always knew July in Alabama was hot,” he said. “We didn’t how these things would respond to that.”
Cara McClure, a woman who said she’s faced homelessness in Birmingham before, said she found images of the “microshelters” to be triggering.
“I don’t know what I would do,” McClure said. “It’s just so scary.”
Lanier said that he appreciates the feedback from folks like McClure.
“That’s important to us,” he said. “Safety and dignity have been primary concerns. That’s what we think about as architects.”
Lanier said that he is still concerned about where displaced residents facing homelessness will go during the World Games, which take place from July 7-17.
“Everybody should be concerned about that,” he said.
Michelle Farley, who leads One Roof and was included in discussions about the project, said that she’s fought against the microshelter “movement” as it has become more popular across the country. She said that she wouldn’t be able to stay in the shelters herself.
“There is no way that these tiny microshelters can provide dignity for people,” she said. “They need permanent supportive housing. But the money has not been there for the type of safe, decent, and affordable housing that we need.”