Project Compassion

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Crystal Smitherman discussing Project Compassion micro-shelters in May 2022
Redesigned micro-shelters at Faith Chapel Care Center in June 2022
Updated micro-shelters in July 2022

Project Compassion is a privately-led initiative to deliver safer sleeping arrangements for persons experiencing homelessness. The project was initiated and received early funding as part of the city's response to the need to shelter people displaced by the 2022 World Games.

As early as March 2022 Kathy Boswell, the executive vice president for community engagement for TWG2022 was sharing information about the "World Games Infrastructure & Compassion Project," which included community education and sustainability components.

In early April 2022 Birmingham City Council member Crystal Smitherman asked Mayor Randall Woodfin what the city planned to do about homeless persons impacted by the World Games. Woodfin encouraged her to bring the matter up with Boswell. They both wished to avoid repeating the cruelty carried out by Atlanta, Georgia in advance of the 1996 Olympic Games, when that city "evicted" homeless persons by putting them on buses to other cities and threatening them with arrest if they returned. The project was funded with as much as $200,000 from the city's $3 million contribution to the event, provided via grants to local nonprofits to provide services to the homeless.

Smitherman and Boswell contacted the Auburn University College of Architecture, Design and Construction as they began looking at the potential of constructing temporary housing for those displaced. The prototypes that were under development have been referred to as "micro-shelters" or "tiny homes" by proponents. Critics who called for more comprehensive, long-term responses to homelessness, called them "human storage" or "dog houses". Smitherman initially hoped that the project would create temporary shelter for as many as 100 to 150 persons. As the project progressed, the scope was reduced to housing 40, and later 30 individuals.

The first prototypes, constructed in early June, were triangular in shape and designed to house an included cot and to be secured with a locking door. They were described as offering, "some ventilation", and, though not furnished with electrical power, "could be equipped with a battery-powered fan to help battle the heat." They would be sited in a lot adjoining the Faith Chapel Care Center, a mission of Faith Chapel Christian Center at 921 2nd Avenue North in Smithfield, which would host meals, laundry, and other services during the World Games with support from Food for Your Journey and God's Loving Hands. Those offered housing would be referred by local non-profits, according to Faith Chapel's Debra Blaylock.

By late June, under increasing pressure from activists and advocates for persons experiencing homelessness, it was admitted that the prototype micro-shelters were a failed experiment, and would not be put into service during the World Games. Architect Bruce Lanier, representing the Alabama Center for Architecture, addressed a group that met at Faith Chapel Care Center on June 23. He claimed that at that point, the prototypes, now larger and more box-like with a shed roof, had been outfitted with electrical service and equipped with air conditioners, and an interior light and convenience outlet. He described the unfinished prototypes as part of an ongoing project to serve as a "stopgap" for instances when permanent secure housing was infeasible. Regarding the criticisms that the micro-shelters were primarily intended to hide the homeless from view during the Games, he declared that, "this is not a World Games project, nor is it a project that was intended to follow the World Games timeline," and, furthermore, that the program was, "a private, citizen-led project", and, "not a project of the city of Birmingham, TWG2022 or law enforcement agencies," and was in no way connected to the displacement of persons from the World Games security zone.

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