Fulton’s John Eaves and Atlanta’s Kasim Reed forging homeless pact

By Maria Saporta

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves visited the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter on Friday, Aug. 14, when he was given a personal tour by operator Anita Beatty, director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.

Eaves wanted to see for himself the condition of the facility and whether it was following Fulton County’s protocols to test its clients for tuberculosis.

After the tour, Eaves said it was not as bad as he had thought it would be, and that the facility is meeting the TB protocols.

But even after a pleasant tour of Peachtree-Pine, Eaves was not convinced.

To Eaves, the Peachtree-Pine facility is “a big monster building” that reminded him of a warehouse for the homeless.

Peachtree-Pine

A Peachtree view of the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter (Photos by Maria Saporta)

“Is this big warehouse approach effective?” Eaves asked himself. “Can better services be provided to the homeless population other than having a big warehouse approach? I would say: ‘Absolutely yes!'”

For years, if not decades, several attempts have been made to shut down the Peachtree-Pine shelter – usually with the argument that homeless were not being well served in that facility

Yet all those attempts have failed.

The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, a nonprofit headed by husband-and-wife team: Anita and Jim Beatty, has always managed to hang on. It even lost ownership of the building, but it has managed to stay put thanks to numerous lawsuits.

Now Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is the latest leader to enter the fray. Last week, in a talk to the Commerce Club, Reed said he wanted to shut down the facility – perhaps through eminent domain – and put a police and fire station at that location. The reason he gave was that Peachtree-Pine has been identified as health hazard given that previous cases of TB had been traced back to the shelter.

But there is no certainty Reed’s approach will work any better than previous efforts.

What is probably most significant is the fact that the mayor said he has been meeting with Chairman Eaves to discuss ways to address the homeless situation in the city and county.

Peachtree-Pine

A Pine Street view of Peachtree-Pine shelter showing the back building along Courtland Street

It is no secret that up to now, Reed and Eaves have not gotten along. Even when there are issues related to a joint city-county authority, the mayor has called the shots – often without consulting Eaves or other county leaders.

So now two really significant moves are about to happen – both of which could be sealed by mid-September.

Eaves is recommending that the City of Atlanta and Fulton County form a bi-jurisdictional agreement to serve the homeless.

“I told the mayor we should work toward re-establishing a partnership – a bi-J,” Eaves said. “The city can’t do it by itself. It’s a lot more effective if the city and the county are joined at the hip. If the city and county are partners, we would be in a better position to get federal funding from HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).”

The second major move is that the city and county have been working to provide a new homeless shelter – for about 150 men – at a county-owned facility on Jefferson Place in northwest Atlanta.

The facility would not replace Peachtree-Pine, which the Task Force has said often serves between 300 to 500 people a night. But it could be part of a solution to better serve the homeless.

As currently envisioned, the county would spend about $1 million to repair the Jefferson Place building, including putting in a new roof. Then the county would lease the building to the city, which in turn would contract with a private entity to run the homeless facility.

Peachtree-Pine

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed responds to reporters’ questions about closing Peachtree-Pine

After having toured Peachtree-Pine, Eaves said: “I just believe that smaller places would be more effective.”

Eaves envisions having several small shelters to avoid concentrating hundreds of homeless people in one place. He also believes that the smaller shelters should have “wrap-around services” for the residents so that they can receive the help they need.

But the ultimate goal would be to find more permanent housing options for those who are currently homeless.

“Frankly at this point I want to do what we can to serve our citizens better,” Eaves said. “Can we find another area where the homeless could be better accommodated? Can there be more of a decentralized approach?”

One issue is that Peachtree-Pine has an open door policy – letting the homeless stay there with few conditions. Unlike other shelters, Peachtree-Pine may not probe clients to find out if there is an outstanding warrant for their arrest.

“An idea of a low-barrier shelter with a robust set of services for the types of people who are going to Peachtree Pine has been a topic of conversation for awhile,” said Milton Little, president of the United Way of Greater Atlanta. “There needs to be a facility for people with a low barrier to entry but with comprehensive services.”

Over the years, United Way and other nonprofit partners have developed plans to house the homeless should Peachtree-Pine have to close. Little said the goal is to provide a “rich array of services that transition the homeless into housing.”

Peachtree-Pine

A view of the Peachtree-Pine shelter from Courtland

Jack Hardin, an attorney who serves as co-chair of United Way’s Regional Commission on Homelessness, pleased with the recent progress. “The funding communities are looking for big ideas. The point-in-time counts (of the homeless) show we are doing the right things and making progress in reducing the numbers. New programs and new ideas are making promising progress.”

So where does that leave Peachtree-Pine?

Eaves said he would like to have open conversations with Anita Beatty and leaders of the Task Force to explore ways to work together.

‘Maybe it’s worth taking another approach – diplomacy,” Eaves said. “We should explore alternative ways to serve the population, and we should definitely work with the Task Force. I believe Anita Beatty is interested in more effective ways to address the needs of the homeless.”

When it comes to building a relationship with the Task Force, maybe now is as good a time as any After all, isn’t everyone tired of all the legal maneuvers and lawsuits – especially when those efforts take away from people working together to solve the issues related to the homeless.

Eaves acknowledges he may be naive. But he has been able to open a door with Mayor Reed. Maybe he can do the same with the Task Force.

“I’m prepared to work even more collaboratively to access federal dollars to address these issues more comprehensively,” Eaves said. “This cannot be solved in a unilateral way. It’s got to be collaborative.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

8 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    “Eaves said it was not as bad as he had thought it would be, and that the facility is meeting the TB protocols.”
    And how would he know whether it is meeting the TB protocols? He has a BS in Mathematics from Morehouse, a Master’s Degree in Religion from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of South Carolina. He has no training in infectious disease control.Report

    Reply
  2. jamesr1991 says:

    I’m not sure if Fulton County can afford to help anyone at this time. According to several published reports they are facing a $75 million deficit for 2016 and the new Manager has been tasked to close that gap. The new Manager has said social services and arts programs will be the first areas to be cut. Good luck!!! Besides Reed will ride Eaves as far as he can then dump him when it’s not to his advantage. What’s worse Eaves will let him.Report

    Reply
  3. scfranklin says:

    Collaboration between Fulton County and the City of Atlanta has always been good news for city and county residents as well as Georgians and Georgia based businesses whether they are funding the Atlanta Beltline, MARTA or Turner Field,  founding the Atlanta Regional Commission on Homelessness, funding and operating the Northside Water Treatment facility or hosting the Centennial Olympic GamesReport

    Reply
  4. Rick McKnight says:

    Just 100 miles to the south, Columbus GA is using national best practices to dramatically improve the way we address homelessness as a community.  HOME FOR GOOD, a 501c3 loosely associated with United Way, and the Collaborative Agency for the Continuum of Care has been able, using the Housing First model to add over 300 housing choice vouchers with wrap-around services. (Resulting in $1,700,000 annually in rent to landlords.) We have a new partnership with our safety net hospital, Columbus Regional, to identify most frequent users of the emergency room and put them in housing. (Projected savings of $20,000 per person annually.) Home For Good has hired a housing coordinator and written grants for service providers willing to participate in the Housing First model. We are home to Ft. Benning and have placed over 50 homeless veterans in shelter this year. We are the only community in the state selected to participate in “Zero in 2016” – a national program to end veterans and chronic homelessness.
    It hasn’t been easy and it has taken time but it is happening big time now. We partner with our consolidated government and Housing Authority.  We solved our combined sewer overflow problem years ago running new pipes along the Chattahoochee and put a 17 mile brick Riverwalk on top of it. $600 million in infrastructure improvements in our downtown alone over the past 12 years. Paradigm shirting solutions in the second-largest city in our state. GOOD LUCK, Atlanta and Fulton County.Report

    Reply
  5. EveryLastWord says:

    No one can wear down Anita Beatty. Her perspective on homelessness is just very different from those of public officials and business leaders, like it’s more of a lifestyle choice than a social problem. She has been fighting to keep that property as a come-and-go-as-you-wish shelter literally for decades and has won every battle to this point.  It’s a good bet that she’ll outlast Reid, Eaves and their successors.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.