Gateway Homeless Shelter Closes 140 Emergency Mats for Women

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Gateway Center–Mayor Shirley Franklin’s answer to ending chronic homelessness in Atlanta–has now downsized its emergency Overflow for homeless women from about 150 mats, to 10 mats per night, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

After days of pressure from APN, WRFG radio, and CBS 46 television, Gateway apparently has decided to maintain the ten beds instead of none, even though the agency’s Director denied the whole time that the Overflow was winding down at all.

This means a net loss of about 140 (sometimes more) mats from the system, due to Gateway’s actions.

Twenty of these women showed up in a van from the Gateway at the Task Force for the Homeless Saturday, where the best they could do was sit in the lobby all night, a senior staff member of the Task Force told APN. The Task Force offers chairs as a last resort because it isn’t licensed to house women as well as men at the same time.

“The women were saying, they were no longer doing the Overflow,” the staff member said.

Gateway is no longer talking to, or accepting referrals from, the Task Force, the staff member said, as a political battle between the two shelters has escalated, especially after the Task Force exposed Gateway’s mass eviction policies in a press conference last week.

Moreover, the manner in which homeless women are being tossed around as part of a game of musical beds–intended to distract onlookers from the overall displacement occurring–has hurt and disgusted many homeless women, APN has learned.

“It was very much like: we’re disappearing people,” Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force for the Homeless, remarked.

The entanglement, uncertainty, empty promises, and runaround character of the relocation of hundreds of women, as a result of the shut-down, is reminiscent of the Hurricane Katrina evacuation process, except in this case it’s a manmade disaster.

Meanwhile, in potential positive news, an anonymous benefactor is currently in talks to purchase a building to build a new shelter for homeless women in Atlanta. The individual contacted WRFG radio during APN Senior Staff Writer Jonathan Springston’s in-depth discussion of the problem on Adam Shapiro’s Current Events show last week. A second individual contacted the station to offer the benefactor with additional support. And now, we’ve confirmed that plans are being developed for a possible new shelter although it may take years to open.

DESPITE DENIALS AND WORD GAMES, GATEWAY CLOSES OVERFLOW

APN was notified over the weekend by Anita Beaty that the Gateway indeed closed the Overflow on Saturday.

Previously, last week, APN contacted Gateway Center’s Director Vince Smith to find out why many homeless women were telling advocates they had heard the Overflow would be closing [see previous story in APN].

When interviewed by APN last week, Smith denied the Center was winding down, although he admitted it would eventually close because, as he put it, the problem (of homeless women) would be “solved.”

Smith said he didn’t know why the women were saying that it was closing. He refused, however, to promise that the women who had been staying there at the time could sleep on mats until alternative placements had been found for them.

He also refused to promise that any women who came there in the future would be provided with mats until alternative placements had been found for them.

But, then Thursday the Task Force held a press conference in front of the Gateway Center along with State Sen. Vincent Fort, State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas, Lauren Cogswell of the Open Door Community, APN’s News Editor Matthew Cardinale, and several homeless women.

CBS 46 News covered the press conference with a 90 second clip, and said there were “mixed messages” from the Gateway, adding several homeless women were worried they would be on the street.

Even though Smith wasn’t making any promises when APN was investigating, Smith changed his story when CBS 46’s reporter, Joanna Massey, asked if she could have a mat to sleep on if she needed a place to stay tomorrow.

“Of course!” Smith said during the clip, “And sheets, and something to eat, and a smile…” he told CBS 46.

Well, clearly, Smith must have meant tomorrow in the literal sense, because the Overflow closed within days.

“There seems to be a… misunderstanding,” Smith had told CBS 46.

If Massey needs a mat today, she’d best be sure to get over to the Gateway early in the morning, because the 10 remaining slots fill up quickly, APN has learned.

HOMELESS GIRL SAID TO HYPERVENTILATE AFTER DISPLACEMENT

One of the most traumatic reactions to the closure of the Overflow shelter was when a four year old girl, who along with her mother is homeless, began to scream, cry, and hyperventilate, Task Force Outreach Coordinator Joe Houston said.

Houston typically does not speak out about the Gateway Center, but this time, “The way they did the thing was so chaotic and confusing, nobody knew what was going on, especially those on the front line,” he says.

The Gateway Center asked Houston to transport women out of the Center, he told Atlanta Progressive News.  “It wasn’t clear,” where the women were being transported to.  “He told me to call… the United Way. I said, where are the women going?”

Houston was given an address which did not show up on MapQuest, an online map search, he said of one incident.

“Thursday, they was moving some people [sic] out of Ellis Street (to make room for other women coming from Gateway), I think Mary Hall Freedom House was where they was taking them, which was a drug rehab program. I understand the night before they were told women with children could go as well as single women. They were taking them up there to see who qualified for the program. They had three vans,” Houston said.

“At the last minute, some women were told their children was too old, and they couldn’t accommodate them. Because of the confusion, there was an incident with a child who was four years old. She began to hyperventilate because it was a frightening experience with all the confusion as to what was going on,” Houston said.

DEAR MAYOR FRANKLIN

Atlanta Progressive News has obtained several written statements prepared by homeless women who vowed to speak out on how they’ve been treated. APN has promised to grant confidentiality as to the women’s names, but did interview one of the women Monday night, Demetria Pearson. She consented to have her name used in this article.

“Dear Ms. Franklin, my name is Demetria Pearson. Ms. Franklin, I’ve experienced a recent situation from the Gateway 24/7 shelter…. There were no space or any place to place any women at the time. A young lady advised me to go to the Task Force to get help and she’s given me a telephone number to My Sister’s House,” Pearson, 36, wrote.

“We were transferred to the Gateway shelter to get a place to stay. What has apparently happen [sic], was they’ve gave us the run around. They’ve had us get back on the bus to go to Ellis Street fire house for a place to sleep, they were overcrowded. We had to return back to the Task Force shelter to stay overnight there. If you have any questions please contact me…” Pearson wrote.

“They were talking to us like we were little children. We were hurt,” Pearson told APN in an interview.

MORE WOMEN TESTIFY

“They told us we were forced to leave because they were putting us somewhere else, so they could clean up the Gateway Center,” one homeless women, who requested her name not be used, said.

“They have ten emergency mats,” she said.  “Anything over ten, they go to the Task Force,” she said.

“When went to check in [sic], security told me they would not take women anymore. He said go to Task Force,” one woman wrote in a statement.

“The Gateway people had taken all the spaces so the Director of the Ellis Street shelter directed me to return to the Gateway Center because I was in a roll-away bed the night before, she explained that it was a fire hazard,” another woman wrote.

“They told me at Gateway they don’t take people at Gateway no more. So they put people out,” another woman wrote.

“I’ve spent approx. three nights at Gateway. On Friday… I was told Gateway was never meant to be a shelter, that it was just a service center that they had had an Overflow. That a bus would arrive around 5:00. That people were being sent to another shelter. I arrived there before 5pm, I got on the bus like everyone else. A worker stated she wasn’t taking any newcomers. And she also sent others away that supposedly stayed there last night,” another woman wrote.

A PROBLEM NOT SOLVED, BUT ONLY MADE WORSE

“We could place 50 women in two days, and on the third day, there’s 50 more women,” a Task Force staff member, who oversees service for women, said.  “So there’s no such thing as a culmination.”

Vince Smith of the Gateway had said their alleged solving of the problem of homeless women in Atlanta was the culmination of working with many different agencies to find placements.

“That’s the real issue. We can place people, but there are no new shelter beds–we need help in that area,” the staff member said.

“The Task Force for the past ten years has offered for women we could not place, our lobby. They [the Gateway] could not handle for three months, what the Task Force has been doing for ten years!” she said.

“They were overwhelmed with the numbers. They have said in the past we’re exaggerating, that there are not that many homeless women,” she said.

Homeless women have passed along a rumor for several weeks. “This was a rumor, we kept trying to check out. They kept saying, they told us Friday was the last day. Saturday is when we got the bus load,” she said.

The staff member said she has also heard the pressure to close the Overflow came from high up.

“Preceding all this, a lady, part of the Atlanta’s Commission on Homelessness, did a tour of the Gateway Center, and she was appalled to see the women on mats, and she vowed to shut it down. Apparently, Gateway has buckled under pressure. Whoever this person was, acted so recklessly,” she said.

“They told the women, we’re out of money. They were telling the women all kinds of stuff. The Overflow began November 1, and we expected it to end April 1 because most of the shelters do that [for the Winter months]. Several times I was ensured by different staff members, oh no, we’re in this for the long haul. Even some of the staff don’t know when it changed,” she said.

SOME WOMEN PLACED, BUT MANY ONLY SHORT-TERM

“In a space of maybe of 3 to 4 days, the Gateway pushed every other agency in town to bring resources to house at least immediately, with a promise of money,” some of the homeless women staying there, Anita Beaty, Task Force Director, told Atlanta Progressive News.

“Because Gateway does have the United Way, I know of many small sort of mom and pop facilities, that have been promised money to expand,” Beaty said, although it is uncertain when said funding will arrive and whether it will be in time to keep those women on board.

Beaty also said Traveler’s Aid placed many of the women in hotels and told them they only had about a week to stay there until the hotel room funding runs out.

“Every mat represents a person who is homeless for a while. Every space in the network of resources recycles 3 to 5 times per year,” Beaty said.

Beaty said many of the women who left Gateway, or shelters like Ellis Street to make room for women from Gateway, ended up calling in favors to stay on people’s couches.

These are “people sleeping on other people’s sofas who will some time or another feel forced to move,” Beaty said.

“One of the things we do on the hotline, because we know where the spaces are, and we know pretty much what we can do… when we get calls, we ask where they are now? If we know there are not spaces, we say can you stay there one more night?” Beaty said.

“We of course take everybody in. If you’re outside, come to us, but if you’re inside, can you stay inside until you absolutely must come?”

“So there’s that tip of the iceberg that shows up,” Beaty said.  “The iceberg is the people who are hanging on for dear life wherever they are.”

“I think these policies and practices are extremely destructive.  The matter of shelter for women and children is a matter of life and death. To just sort of drop vanloads of people at other shelters and not know whether they’re going to get in, or not know who they’re going to displace if they do get in, is just unconscionable,” Beaty said.

WE’D RATHER STAY AT THE AIRPORT

When APN showed up at the Task Force for the Homeless on Friday night, there were a few women in the lobby who were shortly taken in a van to a women’s shelter, My Sister’s House, run by the Atlanta Union Mission. Vince Smith oversees both Gateway and the Union Mission.

30 minutes later, the phone rings at the Task Force. A staff from My Sister’s House apologized and said her supervisor said they were no longer accepting referrals from The Task Force.

The person from My Sister’s House said they would take the women tonight, on condition they be listed as being referred from Gateway Center.

15 minutes later, one of the homeless women and the van driver return saying they were turned away at My Sister’s House. What happened to the other two women?

“They said they’d rather stay at the Airport,” the remaining homeless woman said.

“Can you imagine turning women away because they’re from the Task Force when they’re from the Gateway in the first place?” Beaty said.

“They just want everybody’s social security number,” Beaty said.

“They’re forcing people through [their] turn-style in order to get. It’s always like this when we’re dealing with those folks at the Gateway,” Beaty said.

“They want to control shelter beds so we have to–and the Task Force is the referral agency for the City–for as many beds as they can control, they will try to force us to send the women not straight to the shelter, but through the Gateway, which is circuitous,” Beaty said.

Beaty said the homeless women associated with the Task Force are facing that kind of treatment from the Gateway because “we’re daring to object to closing 140 mats during the coldest night of Winter.”

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

Syndication policy:

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

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