Rev. Charlotte Fairchild, speaker/writer

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Fear Thou Not 501(c)3 director
Murder on the Silver Comet Trail author
Fertile Prayers: Daily Fertile Prayers author

Monday, February 6, 2012

Homeless in Atlanta


The information Alan Harris shares on homelessness will be added here, it is my home!

So much of the work Alan Harris does is at First Presbyterian, Atlanta, GA. Ask yourself what Alan needs to make a difference from YOU. What can you offer to galvanize what he knows will work?
Peachtree-Pine Shelter Problem—Solution Is In Mayor Reed’s Hands
From 1997 to the present, the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless has occupied a 100,000 square foot building where it operates the infamous Peachtree-Pine men’s shelter at 477 Peachtree Street. It is by far the largest night shelter in Atlanta and serves many functions, including housing the only men’s day shelter in metro Atlanta, an additional overflow shelter for women and children, and providing information and referrals for social services.
Due to loss of funding as a direct result of its constant conflicts with city, state, and federal officials, the Task Force was unable to make its mortgage payments resulting in foreclosure of the property. In January 2010, businessman Manny Fialkow bought the building but has been unable to take possession because of lawsuits filed by the Task Force. 
 On February 3, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall  is likely to rule against the Task Force and set a date for the eviction order.
In December 2011, Judge Schwall said “the record is replete with evidence that the property is in deplorable physical condition and cannot offer adequate benefit to the less fortunate members of society, the very persons whom the property is mandated to serve. The Court is not assured the Plaintiffs have the best interests of those community members in mind.”
Had Mr. O’Connell, Mr. Sibley, and Mayor Franklin had in 2003  the  best interests of the Peachtree-Pine shelter residents in mind, they would have opened enough new, safe, clean, accessible night shelter beds and a men’s day shelter. That would have allowed 500 to 1000 men to escape from a very unsatisfactory overflow shelter to clean, accessible shelter with robust services available on site or be linked to such services. Instead, with Mayor Franklin’s blessings, the RCoH made a deliberate decision not to do so. Thus, the Peachtree-Pine controversy was allowed to be just a squabble between Atlanta’s “powers that be” instead of being about critical services for the needy.
Nine years ago Mark O’Connell, United Way’s President and CEO and Horace Sibley, chairman of the Regional Commission on Homelessness (RCoH), which is a part of United Way, were acutely aware of the conditions at the Peachtree-Pine shelter. In their March 24, 2003 cover letter to Mayor Franklin transmitting the “Blueprint to End Homelessness in Atlanta in 10 Years” they said “We believe that a 24/7 Service Center located at the Annex (Gateway) will greatly reduce the demand for the Center at Peachtree-Pine as an overflow shelter.” In fact, the Gateway Center was specifically designed not to be a shelter, did not even open until 29 months after March 2003, and never in any way reduced the demand for emergency night or day shelter for men. 
In 2003 of the 1509 single men who occupied emergency shelters in Atlanta, 700 (46%) according to United Way’s March 24, 2003 letter were housed at Peachtree-Pine.  Eight years later, the 2011 census revealed 1614 men were counted in emergency shelters and though no count is available for reasons unknown, a conservative estimate  of at least  500 (43%)  of the 1614 men stayed at Peachtree-Pine.
The RCoH touts transitional housing yet after nine years into its 10 year plan to end, not just manage homelessness, only 1125, or 22%, of all homeless men in the 2011 census were in transitional housing!
The official 2011 homeless census report bluntly states “…there were not enough beds available on count night for the street population. Even if all the Tri-J (Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative on Homelessness) empty beds were filled, there would still have been over 2,000 people sleeping outside. The need for beds can be clearly seen by the extremely large number of people found at the Atlanta Airport on count night.”  The report also stated “…over the past two years, the sheltered numbers showed a decrease in people staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs” and “over the past two years  there has been an increase of 10%  to an all-time high of homeless people sleeping outdoors.” How much clearer can it be that as Atlanta in March enters its 10th and last year of its 10-year plan, it cannot even provide a roof over the heads of all its homeless men and women, much less end homelessness
What United Way has not made public is that all of the placements are strictly temporary—for three months or so. Not a single new, permanent night shelter for men has been opened from 2003 to the present in keeping with the weird notion that shelters perpetuate homelessness. Protip Biswas, Executive Director of the RCoH recently confirmed openly no new emergency shelters will be opened to replace the 500+ Peachtree-Pine night shelter beds or the day shelter provided by the Task Force. Nor will the day shelter now at Peachtree-Pine be replaced.
As the shelter of last resort, a high number of men at Peachtree-Pine are chronically addicted, seriously mentally ill, physically disabled or any combination of these conditions.  Combining this with an extreme shortage of residential and outpatient mental health and substance abuse programs for homeless, uninsured men and women, it seems realistic to estimate up to 80% or more of the residents at Peachtree-Pine will refuse placement, or if placed, return to the streets once their temporary placement is ended.
If Judge Schwall allows the eviction of the Task Force to proceed and sets the date, the United Way has what appears to be a workable plan. The new owner has agreed to allow United Way’s Regional Commission on Homelessness (RCoH) staff to move into the building for up to six months, assess each resident’s needs, then place them in existing shelters, such as Gateway, the Atlanta Mission, and Salvation Army or, for a lucky few, into transitional housing for three months or so.
Then what? Where will they go except to roam Atlanta’s dangerous streets at night? Where will those who are sick, physically disabled, mentally disabled, or elderly go during the day to rest and recuperate?  Virtually all the night shelters require its residents to leave around 5 to 6 and not allowed to come back until late afternoon. Where will they go to escape harsh weather?
The RCoH’s 10-year plan to end homelessness in 2003 boldly and correctly stated “Emergency shelters have become critical resources for communities working with homeless people and serve as the point of entry into the homeless system.”  This is so critical that the blueprint made as one of its top 10 goals, “Goal B,” to “Ensure that all persons who are living within the City of Atlanta have access to emergency shelter and other supportive services within 12 hours of a request for assistance.”
Being unsheltered on Atlanta’s streets has dreadful consequences. The official homeless survey reports said “31% of street people were at risk of dying on the streets” and “28% of homeless people in Tri-J (Atlanta-Fulton County-DeKalb County) said they had been the victim of a violent attack.” Even with Peachtree-Pine open, there were 2378 men, women and children found unsheltered on January 25, 2011 and that is officially acknowledged to be an undercount!
Whether or not Judge Schwall rules for or against the Task Force on February 3, Mayor Reed, for the first time in his two years in office, assert himself and direct that enough permanent emergency night shelters be opened to accommodate all men who will accept it and provide onsite mental health and substance abuse recovery services or insure the men are linked to these services. He should also see that a new day shelter easily accessible for men be opened to replace the one at Peachtree-Pine.  If he chooses not to do this then he should explain publicly why.

Surely Mayor Reed is aware that data reported to HUD in 2011 shows of 6838 homeless people on January 25, 2011, including children,  3575 were identified as “chronic substance abusers” (up 61% over 2005),  3093 who were “seriously mentally ill”, up 463% over 2005, and 2093 (636 were originally reported but later adjusted), up 39% from 2005. Surely he knows that 88% of all homeless people in all of Fulton and DeKalb Counties live within the City of Atlanta according to the 2011 homeless. Surely he knows that Fulton County though it is responsible for human services including housing, mental health and substance abuse recovery services, is grievously incapable of delivering these services and has never been pressured to do so by any of our mayors from Andy Young to Mayor Reed. Surely he knows that there could very well be 500 more men added to the 1936 unsheltered as of 2011 if he fails to act.  Surely he knows the 2011 homeless survey report shows “only 7% of respondents were working a full time job”, that “most people have not worked much over the past year, do not have anything lined up for the future and are not in the process of searching for work” and that the “majority of survey respondents (40%) had not worked a single day.”  Surely he knows if he does not act, no one will.  Or, does he?

alanmharris@juno.com
I posted this because my nonprofit, Fear Thou Not, promotes the Buddy System. Alan went to Little 5 Points with me a few times when I was there talking to homeless people, and a cardiologist also went with me. Alan is still helping some of the people I met there.