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Birmingham Homeless Being Moved to Huntsville

May 8, 1996

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ Homeless people say they being sent out of town in advance of the Olympic soccer games, and some say they are being paid to go.

Someone apparently has shipped dozens of homeless people to Huntsville from Birmingham in the months preceding the matches, according to social workers and an aide to Huntsville’s mayor.

They said homeless people have told shelter workers they were given bus tickets and $10 cash to leave Birmingham, where the games open July 20. Other homeless people told of being taken to Huntsville by a man driving a white van.

``They were picked up in downtown Birmingham and were given $25 a head and a ride,″ said Kelly Harness, program manager for Project Happen, a shelter and advocacy group in Huntsville.

Harness said the number of homeless people moving to Huntsville eased in February after he attended a meeting of homeless advocacy groups in Birmingham and complained ``that it was not the right thing to do.″

The exact number of people involved is not known. Forty-one homeless people from Birmingham checked in with Huntsville social agencies in six weeks in January and February, compared to 18 in the first eight weeks of 1995.

Harness said many of the homeless people who showed up in Huntsville had bus tickets that did not bear their names, only the phrase ``A-rider″ for adult rider.

``What that means is somebody bought the tickets and was just giving them out,″ he said. ``That got us concerned that something was going on.″

Dennis Blass, executive director of the Downtown Improvement District, said he received several calls asking if the agency was buying people bus tickets or providing cash.

``We don’t have a budget for that and wouldn’t do it anyway,″ he said. ``I don’t know who would do that.″

A spokeswoman for Mayor Richard Arrington said the city had no program to relocate homeless people out of Birmingham.

The head of a homeless shelter in Birmingham said he was unaware of any effort to relocate homeless people in significant numbers. Such a move would probably fail anyway, he said.

``Other cities have done that. But this is two months before the Olympics. It’s a little early for that,″ said Tony Cooper of the Jimmie Hale Downtown Mission. ``And for most of the people we deal with, $25 is not a great deal of money. They’d take the ride to Huntsville and hitchhike back for another $25.″

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