Woodfin rebukes city council Firehouse Shelter vote, calls homelessness ‘unconscionable’

Birmingham City Council meeting, 10-23-18. (Source: WBRC video)
Birmingham City Council meeting, 10-23-18. (Source: WBRC video)(Source: WBRC video)
Published: Oct. 25, 2018 at 6:13 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin rebuked the city council’s decision to vote down a plan to contribute $1 million to build a new Firehouse Shelter.

“The behavior exhibited during Tuesday’s city council meeting was beyond disappointing,” Woodfin said in a statement regarding Tuesday’s vote. “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.”

The proposal came up three weeks ago. The Firehouse Shelter is in the middle of a fundraiser for the $6 million project. They hoped the city would help out, but not enough council members agreed because of discrimination allegations against the shelter.

Half of the the council members say they received calls from shelter employees who accused the management of discrimination against some workers and clients.

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

The vote followed a heated exchange during the meeting.

“The broader issue is about simple respect and civility,”Woodfin continued. “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 said.

Council members said they received calls saying the Firehouse Shelter was discriminatory.

“They said I couldn’t lie. They do treat the black residents differently from the whites. I thought, 'Wow. Really?," said City Council member Lashunda Scales.

Woodfin rejected the allegations of discrimination.

“We can’t interject race into every situation. Homelessness is not an issue we should be talking about race,” Woodfin said.

Woodfin tells WBRC FOX6 News he will bring the funding back to the council. Hoyt said this is more than just about racial discrimination but other forms of discrimination. He also said other organizations who deal with homelessness should not be forgotten in the funding debate. The councilman promised to release a statement on the matter.

The Executive Director of the Firehouse Shelter, Anne Rygiel, said she was disappointed with the vote.

“Our numbers clearly show our goal, our mission, and our success rates are to pull chronically homeless out of their current state and put them back into the community,” said Rygiel.

Rygiel denies the allegations and promised they will continue to fundraise without the city’s help. They have raised $4 million and need about $6.2 million total for the project.

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