The Atlanta Homeless Union sent out a press release to the media to warn that the City of Atlanta plans to send the Atlanta Police Department’s HOPE (Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement) team to destroy all the tents on the sidewalk outside Central Presbyterian Church on August 26 at 8:00 AM.
Several media outlets showed up along with Cop Watch. The ATL Homeless Union provided a huge breakfast for all the folks living in tents on the sidewalk so they did not have to leave their belongings to go to breakfast and come back to find everything gone.
“The city could be working on meeting our demands for basic needs: housing, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation, and a seat at the table. Instead, we are still without so much as a bathroom that we can access 24 hours a day, and the city is investing resources in displacing us and destroying our only belongings in the whole world,” the ATL Homeless Union press release states.
The city has a public toilet open from 7 am to 7 pm but is it too much to ask for public restrooms that are open 24/7? Some people have to use the restroom at night because their bladder is not on a 7 am to 7 pm schedule.
The Atlanta Police Department (APD) asked Central Presbyterian Church to no longer endorse the placement of tents since the church does not own the sidewalks. The church was not involved in removing any tents but had witnesses outside to make sure no one was injured.
Central Presbyterian Church is a longtime advocate of the homeless and considers the tents around the church their neighbors. The church provides a range of services from meals, access to mail, job training, and help people get their birth certificate, social security card, and other important documents in order to overcome their lack of housing.
It was the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, founded by Central Atlanta Progress, which wants the police to clean up the sidewalks of homeless tents to make downtown beautiful and safe for everyone. Police raids are routine and traumatic for homeless people in Atlanta.
These raids confiscate homeless people’s tents and belongings and transport everything to the city dump where it is burnt, as garbage. Now, homeless people are left with no protection from the weather, no clothes, blankets, ID, medicine or whatever was in their tent when the police took them.
A police officer tells the media that their goal is to offer outreach to keep our community clean by cleaning up the sidewalks and give everyone living on the street a great place to go.
The problem is they never say where this great place is. If there was a great place to go, so many people would not be living in tents.
“The system is starting to run again and the police are here to clean up everybody’s ‘eye sore’ so people from out of town don’t see us. We been here for almost 15 years, so after they run us off, we going to come back,” Fleetwood, a homeless man, tells the Streets of Atlanta.
“There are no shelters here. What they [police] going to do is take the men to Gateway and the women to the City of Refuge where they have a curfew of 6 pm. So nine times out of ten, by tonight everybody that is out here is going to be back out here because some of us actually work past 6 pm. A lot of people work these temp services but still can’t afford housing,” Fleetwood said.
“Gateway is like a prison. There are no emergency shelters since they tore down Peachtree and Pine. I used to stay at P&P and they promised us we going to get a place to stay but we still here in the street,” Alfonse Walker tells the Streets of Atlanta.
It is important to note here that it was Central Atlanta Progress that worked so hard to close the Metro Task Force for the Homeless at Peachtree at Pine that housed 700 to 1,000 men every night. They took everyone in even if they were mentally ill or drug-addicted.
After the forced closure of the largest homeless shelter in the Southeast, the streets have been flooded with homeless people that other shelters won’t or can’t accept. Central Atlanta Progress promised to find everyone an apartment but that did not happen. Now, they don’t want to see them living in tents on the streets.
The Covid pandemic has made a bad situation worse with more people out of work and homeless. There are a lot of elderly and disabled people living in the street who receive SSI benefits, and food stamps. All they want is a small one-bedroom apartment that they can afford. But with rent is so high in Atlanta, people getting government assistance and even those who work for minimum wage can’t afford a place to live.
Many folks living on the streets say they want their own place, a small apartment or a big building where everyone can have their own room to come and go when they need to, to sleep or be awake when they want to, a door they can lock to keep their belongings safe and to feel safe themselves.
“Today if the police takes our stuff, we will just have to start over. This is an ongoing thing, you have to start over every time somebody takes your stuff. It’s hard,” an anonymous woman living in a tent told Streets of Atlanta.
The police did not come at 8:00 AM as planned or at 9:00 AM. Word on the street was that they would come later when all the reporters and cameras were gone.
“We were able to keep our tents and the police are letting us stay, at least for now. We credit this to the amazing display of love and solidarity between unhoused and housed people alike. We keep us safe,” the ATL Homeless Union told the Streets of Atlanta.
Written and Phots by Gloria Tatum