Atlanta big business, city officials attempt to evict homeless shelter
Published Oct 27, 2011 8:43 PM
A campaign launched by major business interests in Atlanta, with the active assistance of elected officials, city administrators and other “civic” organizations, is attempting to evict the metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless from its home.
For 30 years, the Task Force has been a fierce advocate for the rights of poor people to decent shelter, life-sustaining employment, accessible health care and respect. Formed at the initiative of Atlanta’s first African-American mayor, Andrew Young, for a number of years the Task Force functioned as a homeless services resource center and oversaw the disbursement of federal grants to service providers.
In the period leading up to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the downtown business community stepped up its efforts to rid the hotel, convention and tourist areas of poor people, particularly Black men. Compliant elected officials enacted “quality of life” ordinances that criminalized the poor. Homeless people were given one-way bus tickets out of town, and the neighborhoods where low-income Black workers and seniors lived were bulldozed for Olympic stadiums and parks. All the while, Atlanta’s reputation as the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the mecca of Black America was ballyhooed internationally by the image-conscious, corporate public relations machine.
Two days before the Olympics opening ceremony, the Task Force filed and eventually won a lawsuit charging racial discrimination in the ordinances that targeted homeless African-American men. That courageous action earned them the enmity of the Chamber of Commerce, various other business interests and their political allies.
During the administration of Mayor Shirley Franklin in 2002-2010, all of Atlanta’s large public housing was torn down. Some of these large tracts of land remain empty fields to this day, while on others developers built “mixed income” housing. Most poor families were channeled into the Section 8 voucher program, providing a boon to unscrupulous landlords and speculators. High utility bills, nonrenewal of vouchers and record-breaking unemployment have led many into eviction, homelessness or resettlement in suburbs that lack public transportation and other services.
The Task Force was again in the forefront of publicly condemning these projects, many of which favored the building of housing for the new surge of suburbanites moving into the city. The plan conformed to a long-sought-after goal by corporate interests to change the racial, political and economic demographics of Atlanta.
Building a central resource for the homeless
In 1997, a progressive philanthropist bought a large unused building at the corner of Peachtree Street and Pine, at that time a somewhat run-down area of Atlanta’s well-known main street in midtown Atlanta. She immediately donated it to the Task Force, which envisioned the multifloored building as a central resource for all the services needed to aid homeless and poor people. Included in the plan was long- and short-term residential housing.
The building required extensive renovation to make it habitable. The Task Force, which had been disbursing U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for years to others, now was obstructed from receiving federal grants. Undaunted, a mortgage was secured, the necessary repairs were made, and the Task Force began operating out of the facility.
For 14 years, the Peachtree-Pine facility has maintained a 24-hour hotline; placed people in emergency, temporary and permanent housing; helped secure identification, Veterans Affairs benefits and food stamps; done job counseling and résumé preparation; assisted placement in addiction treatment facilities; and provided a day shelter in a cavernous room, so homeless men could escape the elements of heat, rain and cold. Each night 500 to 1,000 men sleep within its walls. Peachtree-Pine also provides computer training, bicycle repair, a clothes closet, library, roof garden and art studio. Every year, thousands have been assisted out of homelessness or been given lifesaving shelter by the Task Force.
Despite these accomplishments, the big business and government campaign against the Task Force has managed to strip it of all of its public funding and most of its large private donations.
A federal judge recently revoked an injunction that had prevented the city of Atlanta from turning off the water at the facility. Lawyers for the Task Force had argued that it was the actions by the city to block funding that prevented the payment of the bill. Although the Task Force owes more than $147,000, there are developers and others, including the city itself, with even larger unpaid water bills that do not face a cutoff.
In an attempt to expose the machinations of the corporate class that more and more openly runs the city of Atlanta, the Task Force filed numerous lawsuits. The most earth-shattering suit names the city of Atlanta, the Chamber of Commerce, Central Atlanta Progress, Cousins Properties, Emory University and the United Way, among others, of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct funding, engineer a fraudulent foreclosure of the building and displace Black men from Peachtree Street. The depositions of well-known business leaders, city officials, members of the media and representatives of charities, churches and foundations reveal a shocking story of lies, financial intimidation, blatant collusion and the use of racist imagery to undermine the existence of the Task Force at its Peachtree location.
The concern is that the court proceedings, where all this information can come out, are being delayed while the threats to the shelter are escalating.
A Fulton County Superior Court judge issued a dispossessory judgment last week allowing the eviction of the Task Force from the building, but then reversed his order on Oct. 21. The building and its location on Peachtree Street are worth millions of dollars, but a phony “charity” instigated by the Chamber of Commerce bought the mortgage for a pittance and then immediately foreclosed on the Task Force. Declaring that “this deal smelled” to him, for more than a year and a half Judge Craig Schwall had prevented the new “owner” from taking possession of the building while the issue was being litigated. Within a week of the Task Force’s lawsuit being filed against Emory, Schwall took it upon himself to abruptly allow the eviction. When Task Force lawyers filed an appeal, he just as quickly reversed himself.
On Oct. 14, participants of Occupy Atlanta, including numerous homeless men and women, marched from their encampment in Troy Davis Park (formerly known as Woodruff Park) in militant solidarity with the Task Force. Taking the northbound lanes of Peachtree Street during the evening rush hour, they focused their outrage at Emory University and Emory Healthcare, which operates a hospital across the street from the shelter. Chanting, “Emory hates the poor, kicks the homeless out the door!” they amassed at the front doors of the medical building, part of a very wealthy private institution funded with huge donations from Coca-Cola. The hospital administration has barred Black men they think are homeless or residents at Peachtree-Pine from entering the food court, which is frequented by many nonhospital users.
The men who shelter at the Task Force building have declared themselves as “Occupy Peachtree” and vow they will not be removed from their home. They have offered an open invitation to Occupy Atlanta to use the facility in any efforts to bring justice to those victimized by the profit-driven banks and corporations.
For more information, go to www.homelesstaskforce.org.
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