Atlanta’s Largest Shelter Fights City for Water

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless won a temporary injunction and restraining order against the City of Atlanta to have their water turned back on so that they can negotiate a payment plan with the City.

The largest homeless shelter in the Southeast US, the Task Force houses up to 700 homeless men per night, and provides day services for both men and women, including women with children.

The City shut the water off yesterday for a second time. The first time was in December 2008. The Task Force also won an injunction to get its water turned back on then, and entered into a payment plan with the City.

The Task Force did make at least the first couple payments towards that agreement. However, Executive Director Anita Beaty told Atlanta Progressive News they have fallen behind on their current bills.

“For months, the Task Force has been engaging in good-faith bargaining with the city of Atlanta and the Department of Water, attempting to negotiate a mutually acceptable payment plan,” the Task Force said in a press release.

“The Task Force has tried to pay its past due bill but it was denied.”

Earlier today, Tuesday, June 23, 2009, the water was still off at the facility. Homeless men and women and activists–including Bob Bernstein, Rachael Spiewak, and others with Food Not Bombs and Sopo Bicycle Cooperative–stood outside with signs protesting the City’s action.

“It’s inhumane just to shut the water off. This is their home, the only shelter they can come to and get respect. It’s sad she [Mayor Shirley Franklin] wants to shut this place down,” Willie Williams, 42, shelter resident and staff member, told APN.

Williams said the residents had been using restroom facilities at a nearby store and at another nearby homeless service center, Crossroads.

“This woman [Beaty] is a blessing and they’re trying to take away her blessing,” Williams said.

Inside, hundreds of homeless men waited inside the garage area, where they are allowed to come sit and get out of the sun, while receiving food and other services during the day.

People kept driving down Pine Street, stopping to allow Americorp and Task Force volunteers to take in cartons of bottled water and sports drinks out of their cars. Hundreds of bottles were stacked up inside throughout the building.

An emergency strategy meeting including former lawmakers and activists was held early Monday morning.

Then at about 12pm, the Task Force’s pro-bono attorney stopped by with the emergency injunction paperwork for Beaty to sign. The Judge’s decision was announced around 5pm. An emergency rally was held at 8pm.

SHELTER CLAIMS CITY WANTS HOMELESS PEOPLE OFF PEACHTREE STREET

In the Verified Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction obtained by Atlanta Progressive News, the Task Force claimed the City is attempting to drive them out of operation.

“On June 22, 2009, the City of Atlanta unilaterally terminated water services to MATH (the Task Force) because it did not pay the last two month of water bills. At the trial of this action, MATH will show that the reason it has struggled to pay its water bill is that the City has continuously and systematically interfered with its ability to raise funds,” the motion states.

“Among other things, the City has refused to certify that MATH is in compliance with its programs, when MATH is in compliance, has encouraged public and private donors to withhold donations and has slandered and defamed MATH in the press,” the motion states.

“The purpose of the City’s actions has been to drive MATH from its location at Peachtree and Pine.”

Beaty and others at the Task Force have long made the argument that the City has been trying to drive them off Peachtree Street.

Indeed, Mayor Shirley Franklin and her staff have made no secret about their opposition to the Task Force. Mayor Franklin cut the City’s funding for the Task Force, and removed the City’s funding recommendation for the Task Force to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, causing the Task Force to lose federal funding as well.

These cuts, initiated by the City, have resulted in millions of dollars of losses to the Task Force, leaving the Task Force with only a fraction of its previous budget.

Meanwhile, the Mayor has pushed her pet project, the fairly new Gateway Center, which as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, has questionable practices as a model serving homeless people.

The Mayor’s homelessness czar, former Council Member Debi Starnes, has made repeated statements in publications including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper and Creative Loafing Atlanta magazine, openly criticizing the Task Force.

Starnes and others representing the City’s development interests have said that Task Force residents contribute to crime on Peachtree Street and that the Task Force is not doing enough to move residents into permanent housing.

At the same time, the Task Force has participated in many progressive movements opposing policies of Mayor Franklin, including her support of the mass demolition of public housing in Atlanta by the Atlanta Housing Authority; and the Mayor’s anti-panhandling ordinance.

Beaty says she believes the City is retaliating against the Task Force due to their opposition to the City’s pro-development policies.

“The city turned off water service to a major part of the building many months ago, while other organizations and city departments with outstanding water bills have not had their services terminated,” the Task Force said in a press release.

Also the City was found to have overbilled many Atlanta residents for water services in recent months, although it is not immediately clear whether the Task Force’s bill was impacted by the same accounting errors.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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