The End of the Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless?

(I’ll kick off this blog by posting a few past blogs posted elsewhere to give some context and background for the kind of thing I’m doing here.  This was originally posted June 3, 2009)
We arrived home around 5pm Sunday from a weekend away in North Carolina. On the way to our apartment I decided to drive by the shelter at Peachtree and Pine Streets to see how things were going. The shelter, if you don’t know, is located conveniently at the end of the exit off of Interstate 75 situated on the most storied of streets in Atlanta. Across the street from the shelter is the newly minted, Emory University Hospital Midtown. Surrounding the shelter are businesses, restaurants, town houses and condominiums. Within a stones throw are two of the most respectable churches in the city, St. Luke’s Episcopal and North Avenue Presbyterian. As we drove by the shelter there were no less than 50 homeless men filling the sidewalk immediately outside of the building and across the street. Hundreds more were inside. The enormous warehouse-like building itself, built in the 1920’s, gives off a dingy dark presence despite the paint and new windows toward the Peachtree Street side of the building. There is a bit of an odor with a hint of urine. I knew it was close to dinner time because the white church from the suburbs was setting up to serve that nights meal and to perform the evenings worship service. The appearance is intimidating to even the initiated. The feeling of chaos, or at least potential chaos, abounds. The site of the surroundings leaves no wonder, at least aesthetically, why people want the shelter shut down.

For the past 12 years, ever since the shelter came into being, there has been great controversy. From the “not in my backyard” neighborhood associations to the “not on our main street” government, the Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless, those that operate the shelter, have been under constant assault. Perhaps there is a feeling of vendetta from the city since the Taskforce spearheaded victorious lawsuits against them over their treatment of the homeless, especially during the Olympics. Or perhaps it’s because the Taskforce refuses to participate in the city-wide information sharing of names and demographics of the homeless people that use their shelter. Maybe it’s the drug dealers that are always close at hand. Maybe it’s the sheer number of homeless people gathered in one location and spilling out onto the streets. It’s not without reason that locals are uncomfortable. Although the homeless have more crimes committed against them than they commit, some of the crimes they do commit are doozeys. It might also be that their opponents want them to disappear because the Taskforce doesn’t play by the same rules as most of the other shelters: they don’t turn anyone away, even if they have no more beds available, unless that person is noticeably violent. (They can sleep on chairs or the floor.) There is no maximum amount of time a person can “live” at the shelter. There is no mandatory program they have to submit to. There’s no “professional” security (it’s all partitioned out among the “resident volunteers”), and the homeless never have to leave the building if they so choose (this makes cleaning the building tricky). No doubt the Executive Director, Mrs. Anita Beaty’s unrelenting outspokenness and refusal to back down from a fight have rubbed some the wrong way. (Particularly the local government as well as other advocates who seek a kindler, gentler approach to their political efforts: Mrs. Beaty, for instance, refuses to allow the city to forget its promise to provide affordable housing for the poor that are displaced in the name of gentrification and she is more than willing to call in the press when the city approved shelter, Gateway, turns away pregnant women.) [By the way, the word on the street is that there is talk of trying to find a place to “relocate” Gateway out of downtown.]

Whatever the complaints, fears and disagreements, the Taskforce houses nearly 700 men each night, around 100 women and children in their waiting room because they have nowhere else to go, and 25 or so men in their transitional housing unit. (The Taskforce actually refers to their shelter as an “Emergency” shelter, rather than an institutional shelter. They would prefer to not be in the shelter business at all, but their sensibilities prevent them from closing their doors unless there is housing of some sort for everyone.) Every night there is a meal served at the shelter along with a worship service of some stripe (The Taskforce is not a “Christian” agency, but they realize that to get the church to provide a meal you must also allow them to preach. Here’s an article worth reading about “preaching services” and “social services.”) Every week day there are social services available at the shelter through which around 100 people a month find permanent housing and work.

While I was away in North Carolina I received a text that brought back to mind the ever increasing efforts of the shelter’s enemies to black ball and isolate them. According to Dr. Jim Beaty, Mrs. Beaty’s husband and author of the Taskforce’s approved blog, the city has methodically blocked donations to the shelter that has led to a slow “strangulation” of the Taskforce. The text I received informed me that the Taskforce was currently unable to pay its employees and all were now asked to work as volunteers. The following day after my return I went to the shelter to ask if this was the case, but I couldn’t find anyone to talk to. I have subsequently heard that in addition to the newly instituted volunteer program the Taskforce was down to one working phone line for the entire organization. It is already documented that the Taskforce owes much in overdue utilities. If the latest developments are true then Dr. Beaty’s blog just may be right: a slow strangulation has all but left the Taskforce lifeless. Unless the uber-wealthy step in this could be the end.

No doubt many will applaud this death. Some have for certain cheered it for years. I wonder what the “end” will really look like? 700+ human beings, men, women and children with nowhere to go. 700+ of the poor and silent lose a voice looking out for their best interest. Not in my backyard. Not on main street.

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4 thoughts on “The End of the Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless?

  1. I’m trying to find shelters in the Atlanta area. I have an uncle who has been “missing” since 2003. I fear the worst, but for my mom’s sake, I would like to know if he is still alive. I have no idea where to start. His name is Emmett “Buster” white and he is a white male born approx. 1952.

    1. Diane, I am glad to help however I can. Do you live in Atlanta or can you send me a picture? I’m also glad to direct you to different shelters or ministries that may have seen him.

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