Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Jan. 2, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

Move against homeless draws protest in Atlanta

By Jimmy Raynor in Atlanta

The 1996 summer Olympics here spurred the conversion of empty office buildings and stores into high-rent downtown apartments. Now the business group Central Atlanta Progress is pressuring the city to clear the downtown of homeless people, citing various laws.

The first of these were passed before the Olympics. One outlawed "aggressive panhandling" and cutting through parking lots. Another prohibited "urban camping." The way this law reads, people who have nowhere to live and are sleeping in the streets and behind buildings do it as a recreational activity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. People are in the streets because the shelters are overflowing.

In downtown Atlanta over the past four or five years, parks used by homeless people to get off their feet for a while have been closed and remodeled. Day facilities have been shut down. The closer the Olympics got, the worse it became. Hundreds were arrested for things like walking through parking lots and "disorderly conduct."

Concerned Black Clergy and People for Urban Justice sponsored a rally and press conference on Dec. 17 in Woodruff Park, an area downtown used by the homeless before it was redesigned. About 75 men and women from shelters and homeless advocacy organizations gathered on a cold night to announce their resistance to the new laws.

The rally attracted wide media attention because it was the first direct challenge to the law. Organizers made it clear they planned to commit civil disobedience. Three were arrested after they refused to leave the park when it closed at 11 p.m.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, a leader in Concerned Black Clergy, told the rally that Atlanta is able to find money to build new stadiums, parks and put on the Olympics, yet it can't find money for housing. Rev. Moore, also of CBC, said businesses and white residents that fled to the suburbs 30 years ago now want to take the city back and drive the poor out. Other speakers said they were there to show they will fight back, even if they have to take City Hall.

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