By Maria Saporta
If a judge’s ruling stands, it will be the end of era for homeless advocates — Jim and Anita Beaty.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall ruled late Friday afternoon that the Beatys have to vacate the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter downtown by noon on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Schwall also ordered that the shelter, which has housed between 300 and 1,000 homeless men each night since 1997, be closed by Aug. 31, 2012.
Meanwhile, the judge ordered United Way to take over the management of the shelter and provide the necessary resources to serve the homeless people who have been staying at Peachtree-Pine.
The Beatys and backers of the Peachtree-Pine shelter are expected to appeal.
“It is not over,” Anita Beaty said after the judge’s ruling.
Her husband, Jim Beaty, chimed in: “Just over for the Beatys.”
‘No it’s not,” Anita Beaty countered.
Friday’s court hearing was only the latest in what has seemed as endless legal battles between the Beatys’ Task Force for the Homeless and numerous entities, including Central Atlanta Progress, the City of Atlanta, Emory University, among others.
The Task Force argued that there was a conspiratorial effort by the Atlanta business community, the city and others to cut off funding for the shelter so that it would be unable to pay its bills and continue serving the homeless.
Atlanta’s United Way and its Regional Commission on Homelessness has been on stand-by to step in to serve the people staying at Peachtree-Pine. Several leaders in Atlanta’s business and civic community have said they had been unable to work with the Beatys.
Judge Schwall clearly was tired of the lengthy and contentious legal battle.
“We’ve got to make progress in this case. We can’t let this keep going,” Schwall said. “This is one of the most acrimonious litigation I have seen in my career.”
The Task Force has been unable to pay its bills for years, and it has been operating out of the shelter although it no longer owns the building.
The judge expressed his displeasure that dozens of representatives of Occupy Atlanta had shown up to support the Beatys and the Task Force. The Task Force had opened the doors of Peachtree-Pine to Occupy Atlantans when they were kicked out of Woodruff Park.
The small courtroom was filled to the max. Outside the courtroom, about 45 people were not allowed to enter, and they hung outside waiting for news on what was going on inside the courtroom.
Schwall also was unhappy that the Task Force had filed a lawsuit against Emory University, which owns the hospital across the street from Peachtree-Pine, saying that had antagonized a potential charitable donor for the shelter.
“All this litigation makes it look like your clients can’t get along with anybody,” Schwall told Steve Hall, the attorney for the Task Force and the Beatys. “Why don’t your clients step aside and let United Way get the resources to take care of the people.”
Daniel Beale, the attorney who represented United Way, assured the judge that the organization that works with agencies that provide human and social services in metro Atlanta, would be able to generate community resources to serve Peachtree-Pine’s residents.
After the judge’s ruling, Beale repeated that pledge outside the courtroom.
“United Way is committed to bring the resources to bear to help the homeless at Peachtree-Pine for the duration of moving people into supportive housing and transitional housing,” Beale said. “We are only focused on helping the men in the facility.”
One of the parties in the lawsuit — Emanuel “Manny” Fialkow — was pleased with the outcome. Fialkow had been the business affairs advisor for Ichtus Community Trust, which became the building’s owner after buying out two primary loans on the property. Later, Ichtus foreclosed on the building. The current owner is Premium Funding Solutions, and Fialkow’s wife is a silent investor in that company.
The Task Force has sued Fialkow — arguing that he has been part of the conspiratorial effort to close the shelter.
“I’m pleased that the judge took as much time as he did to evaluate the entire situation,” Fialkow said. “I am happy United Way is stepping up to provide funding and services for the men.”
On the other side, Civil Rights leader Joe Beasley was visibly upset by the judge’s ruling.
“I think it’s a very sad day,” Beasley said. “This black removal from Peachtree is something the judge has expedited.”
Meanwhile, Judge Schwall and Steve Hall made it clear that the lawsuits between the Task Force and the other parties would continue. The Task Force has a lawsuit saying that the community’s efforts to get rid of the shelter has cost the organization $21 million in damages.
If the Task Force is successful in that lawsuit, Schwall said that it could then go out and buy a building and establish another homeless shelter.
“The shelter does not need to be where it is,” Schwall said. “The shelter doesn’t have to be run by current management.”
As a way of explaining his decision, Schwall later said: “I think your client being in control of this building is stymieing any resolution and United Way funding.”
Even without Friday’s ruling, it’s likely that the era of the Beatys at Peachtree-Pine soon would be coming to an end.
“I hate this coming out — the Beatys have had a plan to retire,” Hall said, adding that they had planned to turn over the operations to Carl Hartramph, former housing commissioner for the City of Atlanta. “Carl gets along with everybody.”
Upon reflection, Hall explained why the Beatys have had such a difficult time working in the community, saying: “It is impossible to run a shelter like this and not be criticized.”
As a nearby resident, I am excited to hear that the shelter will be closing down. I have lived in communities with shelters my whole life, but none like this. Outside the doors of that shelter is a jungle of drug addicts and people with mental illnesses. I've personally seen drug exchanges while at the red light of Courtland and Pine St. I've seen prostitutes on those corners and I've seen men so fragile convulsing and yelling to themselves. I've seen brawls and fights on the corners of those streets and in the parking lot across from the shelter. If the shelter was doing as it should, this would not be the case. I refuse to use the Pine St. exit past a certain time of night for fear of being trapped on Pine St. between Peachtree and Courtland as groups of men stand in the middle of the streets with no regard to traffic or pedestrian laws of any kind. Right now in the parking lot across from the shelter is half a dozen sofas and tents and chairs and trash and carts stacked high with trash bags of supplies all near about 100 men with about half of them acting in the manner I've already described. It looks awful and it is frightening. I feel bad for the businesses surrounding that area, especially the hotel across the block. They have to hire a full time security guard for the parking lot and you can't even pull into their parking lot without the security guard needing to see ID. I won't use nearby MARTA to go to my apartment for that same reason. I would never walk nearby there at night. The men at this Peachtree-Pine shelter are not getting the help they need and that the shelter is promising. I'm glad to see it go.