Atlanta to move on Peachtree Pine shelter as Obama administration intervenes on behalf of homeless in Idaho

By David Pendered

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said Atlanta will condemn a homeless shelter located at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets because controversy has lingered, “too long.” Meanwhile, the Obama administration has filed a brief in a federal lawsuit in favor of the rights of homeless persons.

Homeless in Atlanta, Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless

A missionary serving with the group, Saved Life, snapped this photo in 2010 of a man sleeping across a street from the Peachtree and Pine homeless shelter. Credit: savedliferide.wordpress.com

On Aug. 6, the federal Department of Justice filed a brief in a case pending in federal court in Idaho. At issue is the criminalization of behavior that homeless persons cannot avoid. Specifically, the case involves sleeping in public spaces.

According to the DOJ statement of interest filed in Bell v. City of Boise et al., the city cannot forbid persons from sleeping in public:

  • “It should be uncontroversial that punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment. … Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity – i.e., it must occur at some time in some place.  If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.”

The federal court ruling issued in this will not extend to Georgia. But if the ruling favors the homeless, it likely would be cited in any lawsuits filed regarding the Peachtree and Pine shelter. Precedence does matter.

Anita Beaty

Anita Beaty

For example, a potential case could note that some folks who otherwise would sleep at Peachtree and Pine may end up on the streets if it is closed. Atlanta police can be expected to detain some of them on charges related to sleeping in public, or charges related to public indecency or public nuisance. Reed said 300 to 400 individuals currently stay at Peachtree and Pine.

The Idaho case was cited in an Aug. 23, 2013 report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee. The report was presented by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Anita Beaty, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, was a member of a coordinating group that helped craft the report, according to its acknowledgements page.

Here’s how the report describes the case pending since 2009 in the District of Idaho:

  • “Homeless individuals in Boise, Idaho, brought suit to challenge two of the city’s municipal codes that prohibited camping and sleeping in public places despite the fact that these activities did not cause a threat to the public.
  • “Janet Bell, one of the homeless plaintiffs, received her first of multiple citations simply for sitting on a riverbank with another individual. Brian Carson, also of Boise and discussed in paragraph 13, supra, received a disorderly conduct citation that ended in his arrest, even though he ‘did not engage in any conduct that was disorderly, he was merely sleeping in a public place.’ The city targeted many other homeless individuals in this manner for harmless behavior.”
Kasim Reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

The Yale Law School Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic drafted the report. Contributors include Northeastern Law School’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy; Microsoft; and law firms including Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, and DLA Piper, the employer of Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell.

Reed said the city will take ownership of the Peachtree and Pine property through condemnation procedures.

Condemnation, or eminent domain, typically has been used to take land for roads, schools, and other public uses. Under those premises, Atlanta could have trouble making a case to condemn Peachtree and Pine.

However, the rules of eminent domain changed in 2005. That when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that a city could condemn property for the purpose of economic redevelopment.

According to a report by the law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell, the ruling in the case of, established that, “if an economic project creates new jobs, increases taxes and other revenues, and revitalizes a depressed (even if not blighted) urban area, it qualifies as a public use.”

 

 

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.

6 replies
  1. Chad Carlson says:

    Kelo vs. City of New London probably has the greatest negative impact on the rights and privileges of free citizens of anything within the last 50 years, yet to this day you hear nary a peep of it.Report

    Reply
  2. ETLiens says:

    Did Mr. Reed offer a plan for serving the people currently living at the shelter? Thanks to the increasing gentrification of O4W, that building is now sitting on a pretty hot piece of real estate. Not exactly a “depressed” or “blighted” urban area. Kicking poor people out of a gentrified part of town is not “revitalization” by a long shot. What recourse will we have if they just turn around and sell it to a developer, who then builds more overpriced high rises? 

    If TB is the concern, why aren’t they working to better treat the patients with TB?Report

    Reply
  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    ““It should be uncontroversial that punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment.”
    So urinating, defecating, and fornicating in public should be protected by the Eighth Amendment and are OK with the Obama Administration? My guess is that such behavior in front of Obama’s kids wouldn’t be protected conduct.
    What a hypocrite.Report

    Reply
  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    You don’t hear a peep about it because it is a total, abject failure that politicians don’t want the public to remember.
    The Wikipedia article sums up the process thus, “The final cost to the city and state for the purchase and bulldozing of the formerly privately held property was $78 million. The promised 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues had not materialized. As of 2014 the area remains an empty lot.”
    It remains the same to this day.Report

    Reply
  5. Matt Garbett says:

    Burroughston Broch Fornicating (while pleasurable) is not a requirement for survival like sleep. Urination and defecation – while necessary aspects of life – do in fact pose a public health risk and are considered indecent. Sleep poses no public health risk and is not indecent (assuming the sleeper is clothed).
    Your outrage is the outrage of someone that didn’t bother to read other articles on the court decision and thought making completely unfounded leaps in logic would appeal to others that were equally lazy.Report

    Reply
  6. Burroughston Broch says:

    Matt Garbett Burroughston Broch  The DOJ makes a broad statement, “It should be uncontroversial that punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment.” Then they restrict it to sleeping in public. You and I both know that, if their statement is adopted by the courts, other behaviors such as urination, defecation, and fornication will be next on their list of activities to be decriminalized.
    What the DOJ says you and I must tolerate would not be tolerated in front of the President’s daughters. Remember, the President fully supports public education (and the teacher’s unions and their political contributions to him) but his daughters attend the private and toney Sidwell Friends School; previously they attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School. What he says you and I must do and what he does are not the same.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?