Homeless Women May Be Evicted en Masse, in Height of Winter (UPDATE 1)

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By Matthew Cardinale and Jonathan Springston

(APN) ATLANTA — Over one hundred homeless single women and women with children are facing uncertain futures on this freezing cold night, as the Gateway Overflow shelter for women prepares to abruptly close, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

“They can’t put them out in this cold! That would just be unthinkable! Tomorrow is going to be one of the coldest and rainiest nights of the year,” Rev. Timothy McDonald of the First Iconium Baptist Church said.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas, and Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force for the Homeless, have tentatively planned a press conference for 11am tomorrow in front of the Gateway Center [releases to be sent out by morning].

Both Beaty as well as Alan Harris, a homeless advocate, have heard from several distraught homeless women, who say that the Gateway Overflow shelter is about to close, as soon as tomorrow, they told Atlanta Progressive News.

Both Beaty and Harris, who work independently, have also heard from Gateway staff of the impending Overflow closure, they said.

“We got ten calls in an hour from women who were told to call the hotline and get on the lobby list,” Beaty said. The Task Force lobby used to provide chairs for homeless women to sit in at night as a last resort, as they’re not licensed to provide beds for women, before the Overflow shelter opened.

Vince Smith, Executive Director of the Gateway Center, refused to ensure that the homeless women currently at the Overflow–108 women, Smith said–would be found placements prior to the closing of the Overflow.

“I can’t respond to a hypothetical question, because we’re working hard to find beds,” Smith said.

“Ensure? That’s not the kind of word we normally use,” Smith added.

Smith also refused to specify whether any homeless women who approach the Gateway tomorrow or in the future would be provided with mats. “We’re not going to leave anyone stranded,” he said.

When asked if that specifically included providing them with mats until a placement is found, he repeated the same vague assertion. This word game with APN repeated about five times until it was clear the Gateway is not denying there is no plan to provide emergency shelter for homeless women who may approach Gateway in the future, or to continue providing shelter for the women who are in the Overflow now.

“I called Gateway and spoke to the woman that’s in the charge of the regular women and children’s shelter at Gateway, Lindsay Myers [spelling unconfirmed]. She said tonight was the last night for the Overflow women. The original shelter was 30 women and it will return to 30 after tonight,” Harris said.

“We’re almost at the end of Year Four of the Mayor’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. To be discussing this subject is despicable. To be talking about where women and children are going to go, especially in the cold, to be exposed, it’s just appalling,” Harris said.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s spokesperson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

“I assume” the Mayor knows what’s going on, Smith said, adding, “We work closely with the City.”

“Mayor Franklin bears the key responsibility for this- this is her plan, this is her city,” Harris said.

GATEWAY OVERFLOW ITSELF WAS A TURN-AROUND RESPONSE TO EMERGENCY NEED

Atlanta Progressive News reported exclusively in July 2006 the lack of shelters for homeless women in Atlanta. At the time, Mr. Smith of the Gateway Center told APN Senior Staff Writer Jonathan Springston that it did not provide emergency beds but only “program beds.” The Task Force insisted, and still insists, there are unused beds at the Gateway. Smith admitted at the time there are empty beds, not attached to any program, at various times, but that these could not be used as emergency beds.

The Gateway Center “is not a shelter,” Smith told APN at the time. It is “a place where homeless people are taken into programs for extended periods of time,” he said.

“In July of last year we did not have the overflow mats for women and children,” Smith said today. “We started in October and we’ve done it for four consecutive months. Also, a period of almost a month in late August, early September, we did it.”

Just last week, the turn-around in Gateway policy was celebrated in speeches by State Rep. Able Mable Thomas and representatives of the Task Force for the Homeless at a collaborative meeting between service providers for the homeless in Atlanta, attended by APN.

Rep. Thomas attributed the apparent victory with the Gateway to lobbying efforts by activists in the community. “Maybe some journalist wrote an article,” she said, later adding she was referring to Springston’s July 2006 feature for APN.

Among numerous lobbying efforts at the time, Alan Harris had written several letters to the Mayor’s Office and others.

Smith denied knowing of any impact of lobbying efforts in the community on the Gateway’s initial decision to have opened the Overflow.

“He wouldn’t admit it was our pressure, but we know,” Beaty said.

Ironically, APN has been busily over the last week working on a story about the opening of the Overflow shelter at the Gateway, only to learn today of its impending closure.

“The need in the community to address the problem caused the Gateway to respond in an extraordinary way,” he said when asked what prompted the move to open the Overflow, Smith told APN in one of two recent interviews which occurred Friday and Tuesday.

Since the Gateway began taking women and children into an overflow center, “the …time [women and children] spend in our lobby has been cut drastically,” the Task Force’s supervisor of single women and women with children, who requested not to be named for the story, said early this week.

“It really makes a difference that [the Gateway] has helped with the Overflow,” the supervisor said. “Our lobby is not going to be able to accommodate 150 women.”

Beaty, earlier this week, called the Gateway overflow a “huge” development.

The supervisor and Beaty both said it is crucial for the Gateway to keep the Overflow center open and provide beds for the 150 women and children seen daily.

When Smith spoke with APN only days ago, it did not appear the Overflow would be closing any time soon.

GATEWAY DIRECTOR SEES PROBLEM SOLVED

While Smith refused to promise the Gateway will find appropriate placements for all current residents or interested future residents before closing the Overflow, he disagreed with the assertion the Overflow was closing as of tomorrow.

“I had no conversation with Ms. Beaty or Mr. Harris,” Smith said. Beaty has “not left a message for me.”

Beaty says she’s left several messages with Smith’s staff.

“The goal is to find appropriate placements for women and women with children that also provide the support services they might need. We have a number of beds and placements identified. As we move forward during the next week, we’ll see more and more of that hard work come to fruition,” Smith said.

Smith said the Gateway has placed some women already, although he would not provide a number. He listed as past, and potential future placements: Travelers’ Aid of Metro Atlanta, City of Refuge, Calvary Refuge, Oddessey Three, Mary Hall Freedom House, Nicholas House, and the Atlanta Union Mission.

“They’re not finding placements for these people. I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Harris said of this assertion by the Gateway.

Beaty said she believes already many women may have left of their own volition rather than wait to be turned away.

Beaty also says that finding placements for women isn’t a new invention of the Gateway.

“They’re just starting to do what we’ve been doing for years,” Beaty said.

“It’s frustrating when they try to tell everybody else what to do. Then they throw their hands up in the air and say we can’t take it anymore, which looks like what they’re doing. So what if someone criticized them for having [the women] on mats?” Beaty said.

“And they certainly also have just learned what we’ve known for years, the reason [for all these homeless women] is because there’s not enough housing or shelter or transitional housing,” Beaty said.

“The point is to press the Gateway to keep doing what they’re doing. Yes, get them housing, but it takes more than two days. How could you say [leave] during the middle of Winter?”

Meanwhile, Smith insists the Overflow shelter is closing because “there won’t be the need.”

However, the supervisor for women at the Task Force said the current Overflow residents are just a small fraction of the homeless women population in Atlanta.

“The 100 behind that 100 they placed are still out here on the street. There’s not been a facility to take up the slack and help the next 100,” she added.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com. Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer 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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