Atlanta Homeless Shelter Faces Eviction
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The homeless problem in Atlanta may soon get worse. The city's largest homeless shelter has been foreclosed on because the group running it is deep in debt.
Some say the foreclosure is a conspiracy to rid downtown Atlanta of homeless men, while others claim the shelter is a steady source of crime and civic frustration.
From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Susanna Capelouto reports.
SUSANNA CAPELOUTO: About a hundred homeless men and their advocates gathered in front of the Peachtree-Pine Shelter on the edge of downtown Atlanta a few weeks ago to protest its foreclosure.
Unidentified Group: Being poor is not a crime. Keep your hands off Peachtree-Pine.
CAPELOUTO: The scene evoked memories of Atlanta's civil rights past as the Reverend Timothy McDonald vowed to fight for the shelter.
Reverend TIMOTHY McDONALD (Senior Pastor, First Iconium Baptist Church): And we will not allow you to take away their home. We will stand to the very last drop.
CAPELOUTO: The shelter does not turn anyone away. It holds about 400 people a night in the summer and 600 during the winter, but it's not easy living. The place has no hot water, no air-conditioning and no paid staff. The kitchen is inoperable, and food only comes when church members bring it in. The walls are cracked and in desperate need of a paint job.
Amir Hussein(ph) has been here three weeks and is trying to leave.
Mr. AMIR HUSSEIN: Well, I got my clothes stolen in here and lost my money, and so I'm kind of stuck.
Ms. PEGGY DENBY (Head of Security, Midtown Neighborhood Association): It contributes heavily to our crime rate.
CAPELOUTO: Peggy Denby heads security for the nearby Midtown Neighborhood Association. She blames the shelter for petty crimes.
Ms. DENBY: These men walk the streets all day every day. Everything we have is at risk of being stolen or broken. They break into a huge number of cars.
CAPELOUTO: Records show Atlanta police respond to the shelter almost daily for things like disorderly conduct or liquor law violations. The shelter's owner, the Task Force for the Homeless, has lost major donors over the years.
Anita Beaty has led the task force for almost three decades. She says city and business leaders are conspiring against her. She's filed lawsuits charging they teamed up to cut off funding to the shelter, and that she says has forced her to run up a $900,000 debt.
Ms. ANITA BEATY (Executive Director, Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless): For the last 15 years, the city worked day and night along with the business community to eliminate the presence of African-American men who are homeless from the streets of downtown.
CAPELOUTO: City and business leaders would not comment for this story, citing the lawsuits, but they issued a statement saying they are concerned for the men at Peachtree-Pine.
Protip Biswas heads the Regional Commission on Homelessness for Atlanta's United Way. His agency is pushing what's known as case management. It's a national trend in fighting homelessness and ties a shelter bed to social services. He says large shelters like this one are old-fashioned and make being homeless easy.
Mr. PROTIP BISWAS (Executive Director, Regional Commission on Homelessness, United Way): The philosophy of holding on to these men, sort of warehousing them, not letting the community come in and work with these men is not an approach that I agree with.
CAPELOUTO: But case management is expensive, and Biswas admits Metro Atlanta does not yet have enough shelter beds or affordable housing to help its estimated 7,000 homeless. Meanwhile, the city's largest homeless shelter continues to operate, waiting for a judge to decide whether the shelter's management can be evicted.
For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta.
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