Birmingham approves plan to provide tiny shelters for the homeless

Birmingham City Council voted on Tuesday to move forward with a plan to provide tiny shelters for the homeless.

These are small, lockable shelters where homeless people can sleep safely, using units supplied by Pallet Shelter, “the leader in rapid response shelter villages”.

The city plans to use up to $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grants to fund the program, along with support from nonprofits and businesses.

The project now relies on proposals from community groups that help the homeless. The city is today issuing a request for proposals from organizations wishing to take over the administration of a program using the shelters. The pilot program would purchase 50 shelters, along with shower/bathroom units that could be assembled to form a small community of shelters. A two-cabin bath-shower unit is installed for each group of 10 shelters.

The city has not offered any locations for the shelters, said Meghan Venable-Thomas, the city’s director of community development. “We don’t select sites,” she said.

It would be part of the proposals requested from community organizations, which would have to meet the city’s specifications, she said. Proposals should also include a service plan that includes health care, job training, substance abuse counseling and case management, Venable-Thomas said. “We don’t provide direct services,” she said.

The proposed pilot program, called “Home for All,” will be a community partnership that will include Pallet sleeping units and other services.

Pallet Shelter built shelter communities for the homeless in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Dallas, TX; Fresno, California; and Tacoma, Washington and other cities. The organization has built 1,764 sleeping units in 63 shelter communities with over 4,000 people served. Pallet Shelter would provide private, lockable sleeping units with heating and cooling and a desk. The micro-shelters would be clustered in safe and private communities, according to the proposal. Each can be assembled in less than an hour and at a fraction of the cost of traditional homeless shelters, according to Pallet Shelter.

Each basic unit costs about $12,000, and Pallet Shelter does the assembly on-site, Venable-Thomas said.

Although the proposal was approved, board members expressed some concerns. Council member JT Moore wondered if the shelters would be vulnerable to storms such as tornadoes. Board member Carol Clarke expressed concern about liability issues. It was resolved by the city’s legal department, Mayor Randall Woodfin said. He noted that the Firehouse Shelter was created with a city-owned building.

Clarke also expressed concern that the board had to vote on the purchase without knowing the details of what the proposals might be for how to use them. Woodfin said the city would not be forced to buy if no satisfactory plan emerged, although he was confident a viable proposal would be presented.

“These are very valid concerns,” Woodfin said. “We’re not going to pick someone at random.”

Venable-Thomas said there have already been substantive conversations with the city’s partners in addressing homelessness about the possibility of using such shelters. “It’s something they want to do,” she said.

The city has not recommended sites and it will depend on the proposals, she said. β€œIt will be deployed to this site upon approval,” Venable-Thomas said.

Council member Hunter Williams said the problem of homelessness is not just about the homeless. β€œIt also affects those in the community around them,” he said. “It’s a responsibility of the city.”

Cities need to find better ways to address homelessness, council member Crystal Smitherman said. “There is not a single city that has successfully tackled homelessness,” she said.

Homeless people have the same rights as other citizens, she said. “They are Birmingham locals, just like us.”

Councilman Darrell O’Quinn noted the city had a commission headed by former mayor Bernard Kincaid that came up with a 10-year plan to address chronic homelessness in the city, but it never happened. fully addressed.

“I’m just incredibly grateful that we’re having this conversation,” O’Quinn said.

Council member Valerie Abbott said the 10-year homelessness plan had been put on the shelf to gather dust. “It was a good plan,” she said. “We talked so much it’s boring.”

Buying the tiny shelters is a step in the right direction, O’Quinn said.

“What’s presented is not a perfectly packaged silver bullet,” he said. “We are starting the conversation in a meaningful way.”

People who criticize the cost may overlook the ongoing cost of homelessness to the city in terms of services such as police and rescue calls, and homeless people end up in jail or in city courts, said O’Quinn.

“Roaming is not free,” he said. “As taxpayers, homelessness comes at a huge cost to the city.”

Leaving the homeless to fend for themselves is immoral, O’Quinn said.

“I don’t want anyone to feel like doing nothing is cheaper,” he said. “We just have to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

See also: Birmingham offers tiny shelters for the homeless

Meghan Venable-Thomas, Community Development Manager for the City of Birmingham, talks about the plan to use tiny shelters to temporarily house the homeless, as Mayor Randall Woodfin looks on. (Photo by Greg Garrison/

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