The Shelter’s Story

The following is a document written by the Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless surveying the recent history of Atlanta’s poor and homeless in regards to the local government and some of the businesses that have been working in cahoots. It is a disturbing history that has been documented elsewhere including here and here and here, and is currently being hashed out in federal court. The city government, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and CAP (a business development community) have conspired together to remove the homeless shelter from its presitigious location on Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta.

HOMELESS SHELTER THREATENED WITH FORECLOSURE

Dianne Mathiowetz

Located on Atlanta’s prestigious Peachtree Street, home to many upscale condos and towering office buildings, the Task Force for the Homeless has operated an emergency shelter with beds for 700 men, a daytime facility providing space for hundreds seeking relief from rain, cold and heat, a 24 hr. hotline that offers multiple services, as well as a resident program for some 2 dozen men who are employed and receiving counseling help.

When the Task Force first opened the shelter in 1997 (on Homeless Memorial Day), this stretch of Peachtree, just north of the downtown area, was somewhat run-down but in the last decade or so, developers bought up the old buildings and constructed fancy apartments and condos and Emory University expanded its hospital just up the block. In tandem with the gentrification of the area, the city administration under Mayor Shirley Franklin openly declared its bias against poor people by enacting a number of city ordinances that encouraged racial profiling and criminalized anyone appearing homeless.

The Task Force since its inception in 1981 has exposed the root causes of poverty and demanded justice, not charity, for people who have lost their homes, jobs, health and families under this profit-driven system. So fiercely has the Task Force defended the rights of all people to have access to the city’s public spaces that it has been targeted for destruction by the business elite and its political mouthpieces . The Task Force has not backed down in its assertion that racism and class privilege underlie all the rhetoric about downtown “improvement.”

Public funding has been cut through the deliberate intervention of the city government, private donors have been pressured to end their support and now last week, the group’s mortgage on its building was abruptly sold to a mysterious company which immediately foreclosed on them. They have until March 3 to repay $500,000 or the huge Art Deco building on the corner of Peachtree and Pine will be sold at auction on the Fulton County Courthouse steps.

While the seriousness of this series of attacks cannot be underestimated, the Task Force has been launching its own counter-offensive, filing a lawsuit that will be heard in federal court this year. Through discovery, the group’s lawyers have uncovered evidence of a multi-layered conspiracy extending from business leaders to elected government officials to non-profit agencies to deprive the Task Force of funding until they are forced under.

In some ways, these are the same forces that have brought about the destruction of Atlanta’s public housing, forcing thousands of people into the hands of for-profit, slum landlords in neighborhoods wracked by foreclosures. Many others have moved out of the city all together and an unknown number are now living in their cars, under bridges, and in abandoned buildings.

The privatization of Grady Hospital since its founding more than 100 years ago as a safety net hospital for the poor was orchestrated by many of these same business leaders. Their decision to cut outpatient dialysis care for uninsured patients has brought national attention to this very publicity-conscious city. This media scrutiny in addition to the battle waged by healthcare advocates and the patients themselves has forced an extension of funding for private dialysis.

While every index that measures poverty is sharply up in Atlanta from the unemployment rate to the number of bankruptcies and foreclosures to the increase in demand for food from church pantries, the city government so poorly managed a $12.3 million federal program to rehabilitate foreclosed properties that it was denied a second program for over $57 million. Housing advocates and neighborhood associations are outraged by this incompetence or indifference to the crisis facing poor and working families. After reading some of the e-mails that passed among the powers-that-be concerning getting rid of the men who call the Task Force home, it’s not out of the question to consider this failure to use federal funds for affordable, low-cost housing to be conscious policy to change the demographics of Atlanta, the famed city “too busy to hate.”

The Task Force lawsuit lays bare the blatant control by business forces to contravene the public interest and to direct elected officials to substitute their narrow financial interests over the greater good. The need for all forms of solidarity, whether monetary or political, is immediate. For more information about how to stand with the Task Force for the Homeless, please go to http://www.homelesstaskforce.org

There is no question that the Taskforce has been controversial and a consistent thorn in the side of those who disregard the poor; there is also no doubt that many who love the poor disagree with the Taskforce over various issues and approaches. But what must not be lost site of is the fact that illegal activity has taken place against the Taskforce by powerful players and, most importantly, that we are putting the lives of the most vulnerable in harms way. Those who believe that the shelter is filled with lazy men who could find work if they weren’t coddled, grossly misunderstand who avails themselves of the Taskforce’s services. I will be writing more on this subject of who the chronically homeless are in short order.

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