Atlanta now a national poster child in homeless debate for closure of Peachtree/Pine shelter

By David Pendered

Atlanta is the national poster child chosen by a digital affiliate of The Atlantic magazine to illustrate the challenge of providing for the homeless. The news hook was the pending closure of the shelter at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets.

A Peachtree view of the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter. File/Credit: Maria Saporta

The story notes that Atlanta’s civic leaders say they are prepared to accommodate the homeless left without shelter when the shelter known as “Peachtree and Pine” closes Aug. 28.

The story posted June 30 on citylab.com poses one question:

  • “If the problem of homelessness is so tractable that it can be solved in a matter of weeks – before the end of summer – why hasn’t Atlanta stepped up with this plan before now?”

The question seems neither disingenuous nor facetious.

The reporter, Kriston Capps, presents a thoroughly reported story that speaks to the seemingly intractable nature of the homelessness situation across the nation. The story raises a flag over potential funding challenges of some federal grants to pay for programs for the homeless. The issue is whether a homeless person must be sober and trying to find work or be in a training program in order to access shelter.

Atlanta, it appears, is closing the last stop on this variant of the homeless program train when Peachtree and Pine closes next month.

Meantime, Tea Party advocates call for terminating funding for federal programs that accept all the homeless who ask for shelter.

Inside the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter, with a view of the downtown business district. Credit: Kelly Jordan

A group of lawmakers, including a Tea Party member from North Carolina, sent a letter asking the HUD secretary to explain why it was helping the chronic homeless at the expense of other homeless.

President George W. Bush initiated focus on chronic homeless – veterans, mentally ill, etc., with little regard for the individual’s capacity to provide self-care. The letter contends the resulting practices focus on:

  • “[P]roviding immediate access to housing, prioritizing providers that offer services to clients on a voluntary basis, rather than those programs that require sobriety or participation in education, work, training or service programs. …
  • “By implementing its preference for the Housing First model, HUD has removed any incentive for independent housing programs to operate under a model that includes mandatory services, accountability or sobriety. In doing this, the Department has effectively used its administrative and regulatory power to impose national priorities on communities…. ”

The letter goes on to say that these stipulations strip local governments of caring for, “families, youth and children.”

The citylab.com piece identifies a number of national challenges in the arena of policies for the homeless, including several that are unfolding in Atlanta.

For instance, Capps notes the rising value of property in once-blighted downtowns in cities across the country. The Peachtree/Pine location fits this to a tee.

old fourth ward

This home in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, on Howell Street, is priced at $399,000. Credit: David Pendered

In the era the shelter opened, its neighborhood showed few signs of life even though the 1996 Olympic Games had promised to rejuvenate entire sections of the central business district – including this parcel, which is located at the nexus of Downtown and Midtown. Now, prices for residences are well above $300,000 for some dwellings in the Old Fourth Ward, located immediately to the east of Peachtree/Pine.

Here’s how Capps sums up the situations facing Atlanta and other cities undergoing gentrification:

  • “Atlanta is hardly alone. Across the country, downtown homeless shelters are caught in a perfect storm. Property values throughout America’s urban cores are rising, making the work of sheltering the disadvantaged less sustainable and desirable downtown, even as displacement adds to their ranks.
  • “Plus, scarce federal dollars for supporting the homeless are increasingly directed toward programs that provide housing for the chronically homeless—which is great, and a big success, but not so helpful for families who are struggling with a sudden crisis that has put them on the streets.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

There is one comment

What are your thoughts?