Wade on Birmingham

Vote 2007: Mayoral forum on homelessness


If a society is judged by how it treats its least fortunate, Birmingham has serious work ahead. With about 3,000 homeless people in the city — a figure unchanged from 2000 to 2005 — what can be done about this problem that not only affects them but also businesses and residents? Five candidates shared their takes.

One possible solution is outlined in “Birmingham’s Plan to Prevent and End Chronic Homelessness 2007-2017” (pdf), a $50,000 study recommending 12 steps to address the problem.

The Birmingham Metro Diversity Coalition sponsored Tuesday’s 90-minute forum at Linn-Henley Library. Mayoral candidates took the audience’s written questions, screened and read by moderator Vickii Howell of Birmingham View.

The participants:

  • Valerie Abbott, city council;
  • William Bell, city council;
  • Willis Hendrix, attorney;
  • Bernard Kincaid, incumbent;
  • Barry Taylor, city inspector.

Name cards marked seats for no-shows Ray Brooks, Patrick Cooper, Larry Langford and Carole Smitherman. About 70 people attended the Q&A session.

Podcasts (MP3):

Part 1

Intro by moderator

Opening remarks (up to 5 minutes each)
Order: Abbott (4:56) / Bell (10:09) / Hendrix (15:35) / Kincaid (20:55) / Taylor (26:04)

Part 2

Questions (responses up to 90 seconds)

1. What would you do about revitalizing neighborhoods to prevent homelessness in the first place?
Order: Bell / Hendrix / Kincaid / Taylor / Abbott

2. Would you support a living minimum wage?
Order: Hendrix / Kincaid / Taylor / Abbott / Bell

3. What is your timetable to appoint a commission recommended by the study and to present a funding proposal to fund the commission?
Order: Kincaid / Taylor / Abbott / Bell / Hendrix

4. Why are the homeless being shipped from downtown where loft condos are being developed to the eastern part where crime is rising and property values are declining?
Order: Taylor / Abbott / Bell / Hendrix / Kincaid

Part 3

5. Would you support ordinances banning urban camping?
Order: Abbott / Bell / Hendrix / Kincaid / Taylor

6. Would you appoint someone in your administration to oversee ending homelessness?
Order: Taylor / Kincaid / Hendrix / Bell / Abbott

7. What would you do ensure the police treat the homeless compassionately?
Order: Kincaid / Hendrix / Bell / Abbott / Taylor

8. How would you include the homeless in your plan to end homelessness?
Order: Abbott / Bell / Hendrix / Kincaid / Taylor


As much as we’d like to see a knock-down drag-out old-fashioned debate, we’re stuck with the exceedingly polite, moderately informative Q&A format. If they’re going to allow oddball candidates on the panel (cough, Willis, cough), let oddball questions fly from the audience.

But please, oh please, limit those candidate statements to 2 minutes. If all nine had shown, they would’ve eaten up 45 minutes before the first (of likely three or four) questions. Yawn.

At least the subject of homelessness has now been officially addressed. This may have been the longest and only public forum on the issue, election year or no.

Kincaid reminded us of why he won twice: He’s polished, positive and on message. Yet, we’re left to wonder why he’s pushing a regional solution eight years into office, not to mention why he’s so bent on pushing it as his personal agenda without addressing Bell’s charge that Kincaid stepped forward only under federal orders. Another case of too little, too late.

Bell also showed his passion and polish when fielding questions. He had good solutions to tough problems, but still seems to be the long shot given his political baggage.

And then there’s Abbott. Smart, studied, yet unable to muster up many sparks. She gave realistic takes on the issues, but her wry tone just doesn’t seem to capture voters.

Taylor’s answers gave little in the way of next steps, and Hendrix was simply all over the map.

Just 48 days until Election Day. What should the city and the region do to solve homelessness? What factor, if any, will it play in your voting decision?


3 Yips for “Vote 2007: Mayoral forum on homelessness”

  1. Dystopos
    Wednesday, August 22, 2007, 12:19 pm

    Is there a scorecard summary for how the candidates approached the issue of homelessness rather than just how well they advanced their electability?

  2. Wade
    Wednesday, August 22, 2007, 1:02 pm

    Not having read the report (just skimmed it), I’d say that Bell and Abbott had the best responses based on what I heard.

    I encourage you and other voters to listen to their answers and judge for yourself. Some folks want a comprehensive approach, which might cost more now but will pay dividends down the road. And some folks just want to get rid of them quickly and cheaply. And some just want to ignore the problem, or continue to let nonprofits deal with the issue.

  3. Wade on Birmingham » Blog Archive » Wade on August 2007
    Sunday, September 2, 2007, 11:33 pm

    […] Vote 2007: Mayoral forum on homelessness Wade | Not having read the report (just skimmed… Comments RSS [?] […]

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