The city of Atlanta has homeless advocates and supporters of the homeless in an uproar after council members voted 13-1 Monday to shut down a homeless shelter and convert the facility to a headquarters for firefighters and the city SWAT team.
Since 1997, the popular shelter on Peachtree-Pine operated by the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless has housed the needy and even those who have been turned away from other shelters in the city due to mental health issues or addiction issues. Supporters of the shelter and several activists swarmed the city council chambers Monday demanding to know what would happen to the 500-plus who stay at the facility every night.
Council member Felicia Moore was the only one to vote against the plan.
"The reason I voted 'no' was this: I asked three basic questions, and some of these have been asked before. One, where was the feasibility study that's related to putting a public safety building there? [Peachtree-Pine area] Two, what was the plan for the homeless that live there that will be displaced? And three, what funding source, or how were we going to fund all of that?" Moore said. " I was told on each of those points that they [Atlanta Council] didn't know at that point. Since they didn't know, I voted no. I don't have to support moving forward on something that's not well thought out."
She understands the frustration that surrounding business owners and residents are experiencing by believing that the shelter perpetuates homelessness, but, believes the shelter does the best it can cogitating their loss of funding over the years, Moore said.
"There are some benefits there, [The Peachtree-Pine Shelter] there are programs and they do the best that they can. Over the years they have systematically lost funding and when you don't have funding, you can't produce a better product," she said.
The plight of homelessness in America is an epidemic that continues to spread. In Atlanta alone, over 6,000 people go to bed without shelter every night. As winter creeps in and the nights grow colder there will be more and more men, women and children seeking emergency shelter or even living on the streets or under bridges. It's been over 10 years since former Mayor Shirley Franklin commissioned a plan to "end homelessness" in Atlanta.
Last fall, during a community sock drive at the shelter presented by the online magazine ReVeal U.S. and Love Beyond Walls, Executive Director of the Peachtree-Pine Shelter Anita Beaty and Office Manager Paul Bellew pleaded with the community to support keeping the doors of the shelter open.
"Their homes have been removed by the economy, by the lack of affordable housing and new housing policies. What we know is that people who come here have gifts and experience. We say come on in with no drugs and no weapons, no threats and violence and participate in serving each other," Beaty said.
Moore also encourages supporters of the shelter to take a more holistic approach to addressing homelessness and hold the governmental bodies that are truly responsible for some of the chronic issues that propagate homelessness such as human services, health services and mental health services for the county.
According to their website, the Peachtree-Pine Shelter offers a variety of services that include a homeless assistance hotline, a service center with case workers, medical services and testing, an emergency overflow shelter, a resident volunteer program and transitional housing.
"Hopefully we can get the city to recognize that we're not as bad as they say we are. Right now its [the Peachtree-Pine shelter] is centrally located near all the services that are inside the city of Atlanta area that the homeless people need," Bellew said.
Emory Hospital, ranked the number one hospital in both Georgia and metro Atlanta by the U.S. News and World Report in 2015 is directly across from the shelter.
"Their plan is to move us outside the I-285 perimeter which there's no bus going out there, so the women, children and the men, they can't get to it. They can't get the medical help, the housing, they can't get the resources because it's all in downtown Atlanta. So right now we're probably in the best place that we can be because everything is within walking distance," Bellew explained.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Reed said during the meeting Monday that there's a plan in place to help people in Peachtree-Pine and council's action was simply formalizing it.
"United Way of Greater Atlanta and the community of homeless service providers in the city have already established a plan to serve the individuals and families staying in the shelter, which includes to triage individuals and families to the most appropriate housing intervention," said Jewanna Gaither in a written statement to Creative Loafing. She said the assistance would include immediate shelter, longer-term housing and "responsible family reunification."
The legislation that was passed authorizes the administration to have conversations and negotiate a fair market value to purchase the shelter and other adjacent buildings. It also authorizes administration to find out what the fair market value is. If negotiation gets to a point where they don't agree on either the fair market value or selling the property to the city, then the city has the option to move forward with taking over the property for the purpose of the public safety facility.