B’ham Mayor Randall Woodfin responds to clash with City Council over funds for homeless shelter

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Two days after Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting, Mayor Randall Woodfin is speaking out about his disappointment over the behavior exhibited at the meeting.

On Tuesday, the Firehouse Shelter — a Birmingham, Ala.-based homeless shelter — was hoping to secure a $1 million capital investment, over five years, from the city to help build a new a shelter. But the city council voted against funding the new shelter.

“The behavior exhibited during Tuesday’s city council meeting was beyond disappointing,” Woodfin posted on Facebook Thursday morning. “Playing politics with a serious issue like homelessness is unconscionable, especially as temperatures are quickly falling. Making false allegations about a group of people who are committed to serving the poor is shameless.”

Many council members said they had received calls from shelter employees who accused the management of discrimination against some of the shelter’s clients, and a heated debate ensued.

“Are you aware that we have been getting calls about the Firehouse Shelter?” Councilor Sheila Tyson asked Executive Director of the Firehouse Shelter, Anne Rygiel, on Tuesday. “Saying that y’all are racist and y’all are mistreating the black men. You find the whites places to stay, and you won’t find the blacks. You let the blacks sleep on the floor, and you give the whites cots… we have been getting calls. We would be crazy not to question to you.”

“The discrimination that takes place in the Firehouse Shelter is something we have to consider,” Councilman Steven Hoyt added.

Ultimately Councilors John Hilliard, Steven Hoyt, Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson voted against the measure. Meanwhile Councilors Valerie Abbott, Darrell O’Quinn, William Parker and Hunter Williams voted in support of it.

Following the vote, the shelter has responded to the allegations against them, also calling the council meeting “disappointing.”
“Today was a very disappointing day,” the shelter posted on Facebook. “We will publicly address each issue that came up, but we want to thank Mayor Woodfin, Councilors Abbott, O’Quinn, Parker, and Williams for being willing to invest in and support the homeless. Remember- your vote counts and your voices matter.”
Firehouse posted several images to their Facebook pages disputing the allegations showing that over 60 percent of their clients are black.

[Photo via Firehouse Shelter on Facebook]

[Photo via Firehouse Shelter on Facebook]

“The broader issue is about simple respect and civility,” Woodfin contnued. “We cannot solve real issues we face as a city if we cannot have respectful dialogue without bullying and divisiveness. The people demand more from their leadership during our interactions in council meetings.”

“I challenge each member of council to join me in creating a more civil atmosphere in which we conduct the people’s business,” he concluded.

Rygiel said the shelter will continue to fundraise to build the new shelter without the city’s support.

Watch the Council debate below (shelter conversation starts at the 2:19 mark):

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