Task Force for the Homeless Plans Community Hub

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taskforce(APN) ATLANTA — Homeless advocates are planning a fabulous redesign of the Peachtree and Pine Homeless Shelter into a major community hub, where the homeless will eventually run a coffee shop, restaurant, market, art studio, and rooftop garden, to enhance downtown culture and provide themselves a way out of poverty.

Everyone at the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, which runs the Shelter, is excited about all the possibilities for the future. Currently a lot of space there is simply not being utilized.

“We’re trying to create a neighborhood right on the corner, something excellent, cool, attractive, and fun,” Anita Beaty, 64, Executive Director of the Task Force, said.

Beaty is like Atlanta’s Godmother of the homeless, having led campaigns against Mayor Franklin’s panhandling ban and the city’s mass eviction of the homeless during the Olympics. She formerly served as the President of the Board of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

But she wants to do more than serve the homeless. She wants to empower them to create a better community for everyone. It is this philosophy that makes the Task Force’s vision so special and important.

In drafting the current Master Plan, staff members at the Task Force asked residents “What would make their hearts sing?” Beaty told Atlanta Progressive News.

The Task Force, founded in 1981, is implementing its Master Plan to redesign the organization’s 95,000 square foot headquarters on Peachtree and Pine Streets.

The Task Force will roll out a coffee shop and commercial kitchen this Fall, both of which will serve as examples of what can be done when people come together for the common good.

The commercial kitchen and café, located in the rear of the Task Force, can serve nearly 600 people and are nearing completion.

The new kitchen and café will not be a soup kitchen, but a place where the homeless and residents in the community can come together and have a meal, Beaty told Atlanta Progressive News.

The Cathedral of St. Phillips on Peachtree Street donated $30,000 to purchase tables and chairs for the café, Jules Dykes, Development Director for the Task Force, said.

There is also the possibility a catering service will be run from the kitchen and Beaty wants the kitchen to be run by residents.

The bottom floor of the building contains empty retail space that the Task Force will utilize. “Blend,” a coffee shop currently under construction, will take advantage of that space. Many people working to complete the coffee shop are doing so pro bono or at a discounted rate.

Blend will help the homeless by providing job opportunities and will provide a place for people in the community to relax and share ideas. Snacks and treats produced in the kitchen will be sold at the new coffee shop.

For several years, homeless artists have been using the empty space where Blend will be to paint. One homeless client of the Task Force can be found creating beautiful masterpieces each day of the week with paint on canvas, and he has been doing so for several months. The artist declined an interview request for this story.

Beaty said the Art Studio will remain in the rear of the shop.

Even after Blend is complete, Beaty told Atlanta Progressive News the Task Force might use the remaining extra space on the bottom floor to create an urban market where arts, crafts, furniture, and possibly produce are sold.

This way, the homeless can in effect work for themselves, and own the means of production of so many community goods. Why work for poverty wages to help a big corporation make a profit, many in poverty ask themselves. The Peachtree and Pine Center may thus help restore work as a positive and meaningful experience for many clients.

The organization will roll out a comprehensive design plan, unveil two new additions, and begin a fundraising campaign this Fall, Beaty said.

Since its inception, the Task Force has helped people in need by providing transportation, shelter, outreach, housing referrals, health care, employment, and more. Their goal is to prevent homelessness and to seek affordable and safe housing and services for everyone.

They are equipped to handle 976 people at one time but serve more than that during the course of any given day. There are approximately 500 beds for men and an overflow lobby for women. The Task Force is currently not licensed to provide beds for women.

Since 1994, the Task Force has brought over $20 million in federal grants to Atlanta for serving the homeless.

The Task Force moved into their current building, an old car dealership located in the South of North neighborhood (SONO) along the Peachtree corridor, in 1998.

Since then, the surrounding neighborhoods have developed to include upscale residential and retail options for increasingly affluent residents.

Some residents have become wary of such a large facility that serves the homeless in their neighborhood.

The Master Plan, thus, is also an attempt to alleviate those concerns by simultaneously improving the services to the homeless and creating a place that the community will seek out.

“Communities of inclusion are everywhere and that’s what Atlanta needs,” Beaty said. “We need street life and street vendors.”

Atlanta Progressive News currently works closely with the Task Force, empowering homeless clients there to vend our newspapers in public spaces in Downtown, Midtown, and Little 5 Points. We have trained over 25 homeless vendors and some have been able to make extra money while providing independent media to the public. APN ultimately hopes its Street Vendor Program, to be expanded along with The Task Force, will be just one piece of many exciting opportunities, for the homeless and the public, involving Peacetree and Pine.

The Task Force wants both members of the surrounding community and clients to have ownership and is making sure that notion is part of the design process.

Larry Broner, who has been at the Task Force for three years and works on fiscal and administrative issues, recalled early meetings of all the departments called by Luke W. Perry to address concerns about the future.

“Everybody put their concerns on the table,” Broner told Atlanta Progressive News.

Mr. Perry then took those concerns and figured out the best way to address them.

Broner himself is working on improving administrative services such as how to save money by reducing the power and water bills, which he said are enormous. He also finds other short cuts to saving money and is in charge of making sure grant money is spent properly.

“When I do find time to help out, I give 110 percent,” Broner told APN.

Since then, an Advisory Committee has formed, which is comprised of students, lawyers, university professors, architects, developers, community members, and clients staying at the Task Force.

This Committee advises and guides the project and has brought together people who might not otherwise come together and share ideas, perhaps one of the most important long-term goals of the Master Plan.

It is hard to demand things from people when they are generously working for free or at a discounted rate, which could lead to a delay in the completion of the coffee shop, Dykes said. Beaty is optimistic about construction remaining on schedule, however.

Ideas are also being tossed around as to how to improve the physical structure of the building in an attempt to blend the facility better with the rest of the community.

Beaty told Atlanta Progressive News all the windows will either be replaced or redesigned, awnings could be added to cover the retail areas, and an atrium could be added in the front of the building to serve as a visitor’s entrance.

There is unused space on the top floor, portions of which will be turned into single occupancy rooms, the “holy grail” of Task Force housing, according to Dykes.

Other portions of the top floor will be made available to Americorps, which has partnered with the Task Force for about 12 years, for meeting and working.

Available at Blend and possibly other retail venues across the city will be herbs and vegetables grown in the planned 28,000 square foot roof garden on top of the Task Force headquarters.

Task Force residents as well as other community members participated in the design and will help construct and maintain the space. The food grown in the garden can help produce up to 500 meals a day in the new kitchen.

The garden is currently under development. Experts are currently exploring the whole idea to see how it can be done, Dykes said.

Customers from Blend can take their coffee to the roof and enjoy the view of the city and their new surroundings that will include an outdoor performance space for films, live performances, and discussions as well as a sculpture garden and a “plein air” studio space for artists.

The rooftop garden will serve several environmental purposes as well. The vegetation will provide insulation and reduce the rooftop temperature. Water that filters will be recaptured and reused throughout the building. Rainwater will be collected for irrigation. A skylight will allow natural light into the building, reducing the need for electric light.

In addition to growing flowers and vegetables, residents and community members may get a chance to attend classes in landscaping, horticulture, and carpentry, according to Beaty.

There are several smaller, but just as important, initiatives that will be described in detail in the comprehensive plan the Task Force will roll out in October or November, along with the unveiling of Blend, the kitchen, and café.

Beaty said the Task Force wants to “show people first that we can do something excellent right there without excluding people we serve.”

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Staff Writer covering local issues for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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