By Maria Saporta
Atlanta’s civic leaders are standing by, ready to help provide services to the homeless men currently living in the Peachtree-Pine shelter in downtown Atlanta.
The United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta Thursday announced that it has established Operation RESPECT, a community plan to provide services and resources to the homeless men who have been staying in the shelter.
Operation RESPECT stands for: Respond. Educate. Serve. Protect. Effective. Care. Transition.
The Peachtree-Pine shelter has been operated by the Task Force for the Homeless since 1997. Funding began to dry up for the Task Force in the past several years, and the organization believed there was a conspiracy between the City of Atlanta and the business community to close down the downtown shelter.
As a result of its financial troubles, the Task Force lost the building in a foreclosure in May, 2010, but it has continued to operate out of the building as numerous lawsuits and counter lawsuits have been in the courts.
In September, a federal judge issued a ruling in favor of the City of Atlanta’s positions and against that the Task Force. Not only was the Task Force responsible for paying a $150,000 water bill, but it was going to have to vacate the building.
But on Oct. 21, a Fulton County Superior Judge determined that the Task Force could stay in Peachtree-Pine temporarily until another pending legal matter was resolved.
“We are basically galvanizing community resources to serve the men currently residing in the building at Peachtree-Pine,” said Milton Little, president of Metro Atlanta’s United Way. “Over the many months in which the Task Force has faced all kinds of deadlines, we have had a community plan in place.”
It does appear as though the stand-off between the Task Force and the building’s current owner — Premier Funding Solutions — is coming to a head.
Several questions remain. If the Task Force is evicted, would Peachtree-Pine continue to operate as a shelter. Or would the estimated 500 men who sleep there every night need to be relocated to other locations? It also isn’t known whether the City of Atlanta will turn off the water, which would make the building uninhabitable.
“In the best of all circumstances, if there were to be a change (in who controls the building), it would be best to serve the men in the facility,” Little said. “ If we had access to the facility, we would want to locate the assessments and evaluations of the men and as much of the resources there.”
But Little said that the community also is prepared to handle the situation if the shelter was closed.
What we have done is secure emergency resources in the event that the men could not be served in that facility,” Little said. “We probably have about five locations around the city. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 or so beds that we have identified if that should be the path that folks choose to take.”
Either way, Little said United Way will evaluate the needs of the individual men.
“We have put in place an initial assessment process that will identify where an individual is at the moment and what the needs are,” Little said. “We are making available a whole array of services. We have got agencies that have existing resources that they have agreed to deploy on behalf of the men.”
Little also said he said he was confident that United Way and the Regional Commission would be able to raise the funding necessary to handle the increased expenses of handling the situation.
“We have got some funders that we have identified who have expressed a willingness to be helpful,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have an estimated dollar amount. “We don’t know the extent of the need.”
What is most important is that the community could soon have the opportunity “to rally together on behalf of the residents at this shelter and guide them onto a path to self-sufficiency and an improved quality of life,” Little said.
While it still is not known exactly if and when the issue of Peachtree-Pine will be resolved, Little said it was important for people to realize that the community has a plan to address the needs of the homeless men who have been living in the shelter.
“There have been meetings for weeks to make sure the community’s plan had all the pieces in place,” Little said. “We are standing outside, saying regardless of what happens in those court cases, we stand ready to provide resources to those men.”