Fulton County’s Closure of Two Shelters Has Domino Effect (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — The struggle to get by for Atlanta’s most vulnerable citizens became more difficult this summer after two emergency homeless shelters serving Atlanta and Fulton County quietly shuttered their doors due to funding cuts to homeless services in the County’s 2014 budget.
Jefferson Place, a 150-bed men’s homeless shelter, began notifying men in May 2014 that they would have to find other housing.
Springdale Place, a 150-bed shelter for women and children, gave people 30 days to vacate and find alternate housing. The clock ran out on June 30, 2014.
In addition, the Gateway Center again stopped providing shelter for homeless women in August 2013, Jason Tatum, Public Relations Director for the Center, told Atlanta Progressive News. The Center still provides drop-in services, but as of today, does not provide shelter beds for homeless women.
The closing of Springdale Place represented the loss of the only transitional facility that offers shelter to women and children up to age seventeen in the Metro Atlanta region, and displaced over a hundred people.
“I honestly can’t tell you where they went. It’s like when Atlanta closed all of its housing projects. No one really knows where all the people went,” Elisabeth Omilami, Executive Director of Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, told Atlanta Progressive News.
“Some of the women left town, and I know one woman went to Mississippi. She wanted to stay, find a job, have a life, and make a home for her family here, but she couldn’t. She went away. And that’s all I’ve been able to determine,” Omilami said. According to Omilami, no one really knows for sure where the men found shelter.
The closings are devastating to those relying on emergency and transitional shelter, Omilami said. Her organization and others had little time to prepare for the loss of 300 beds.
“It’s a sad situation, it should not have happened, and the money should have been found to keep these facilities open,” she said.
Representatives from her organization found out Jefferson Place closed when volunteers attempted to deliver supplies to the homeless men who were there, and no one answered the door. “We went out to Jefferson Place and no one came out. Our drivers were wondering what was going on, there was no one there,” she said. “And that’s how we found out.”
Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said her organization found out about the closings when the facilities stopped taking new residents.
“Springdale never took people directly from us, they took them from City of Refuge. But City of Refuge took people from us. The City [of Atlanta] had arranged this strange way of having women go from one place to another, to another, which is not the kindest way to house people. But when Springdale stopped taking new people, that backed the whole process up that the City and County had set up,” Beaty told APN.
The loss impacts transitional housing that bridges from emergency shelter to permanent housing.
“We lost 150 beds, and most of the women there that were displaced were put back into this system of just seeking shelter, not housing,” Beaty said.
Women and children are especially vulnerable to homelessness, Beaty said. “Many of these women are not able to get jobs because they have young, little children and no childcare. And some of them aren’t getting any kind of support. It’s a really dark day for homelessness, particularly for women and children.”
Springdale Place opened its doors to women and their children in 2012 and featured a childcare facility; a Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office; workforce development and job skills programs; a medical exam room; and a health consultation area.
Women with children were able to use the shelter for up to 120 calendar days in the 125-bed assessment area, and for up to seven months in the 25-bed transitional housing area. Jefferson Place, which opened in 1991, provided the model for Springdale Place.
“I spent my last Friday in the office with one of the women who had been put out of the shelter. She has four kids, she had no place to go, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness I’m going to have to put her up in a hotel until we can place her, find somewhere,’ because everywhere we kept calling around, we were told, ‘It’s full. We’re full,’” Omilami said.
“Eventually our case managers found the woman, who was a victim of domestic violence; and her children, a place in Gwinnett County that could take her, but there were no beds for her in the City of Atlanta. I don’t know where she and her children would have gone,” Omilami added.
“If you can’t get anyone on the phone, they might be done for. They sleep in the car or you put them in a hotel, and you have to spend your operating money doing that,” she said.
Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless held a press conference on May 01, 2014, calling on the city and the county to find a solution and not close the shelters, or at least allowing the residents more time to seek other housing.
Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves stated in an April 30, 2014 release that funding cuts in Fulton County, the City of Atlanta, and federal funds necessitated the closings, and that the county would “implement a 180 day transitional plan to relocate all residents to other locations that can provide services.”
The release did not specify where these alternate services were and neither Omilami nor Beaty knew of any specific transitional plans for residents.
A meeting was called by Eaves and other commissioners with local non-profits on May 15, but as Omilami explained, the meeting resulted in no further planning.
Eaves’s statement on the alleged “transitional plan” therefore appears misleading and deceptive.
Fulton County provided APN with additional information about the closures and funding issues.
“Funding for homeless services was reduced by $1.83 million with the adoption of the fiscal year 2014 budget,” Felecia Church, Fulton County Senior Public Affairs Officer, wrote in an email prepared for APN.
While Fulton County “has funded emergency shelters for many years utilizing General Fund dollars,” the budget shortfall resulted in many programs and services receiving reductions, Church wrote.
The shelters were also funded in part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which recently decided it would cease funding “Supportive Services Only” organizations and only put HUD money towards programs that developed permanent housing – leaving transitional and supportive services scrambling.
According to Church, the closings also the follow the 2013 dissolution of the Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative, which was a cooperative funding operation between Fulton and DeKalb Counties and the City of Atlanta for homeless services.
“This collaborative ended at the initiation of DeKalb County, followed by the City of Atlanta. While Fulton County requested continuation of this collaborative, or a period of transition, HUD ultimately approved the dissolution of the Tri-J,” Church wrote.
“As a result, as required by federal law, each jurisdiction will now operate independently and can only coordinate services within their jurisdictions. Therefore, Fulton County can only coordinate services in the area of Fulton County outside of the City of Atlanta,” Church wrote.
The county also met with local organizations to keep the shelters running, said Church. “We held meetings with United Way and the Regional Commission on Homelessness representatives to determine if they would have the resources to help the shelters stay open. Fulton also offered the Jefferson Place and Springdale sites to the City of Atlanta to operate if they wished to do so,” Church wrote.
The City of Atlanta declined to fund the shelters.
Beaty disagrees with the idea that Fulton County cannot operate services in Atlanta, and said that it is a matter of the City and County choosing to ignore homeless residents in favor of other projects they wish to prioritize.
“Fulton County has operated services inside the city of Atlanta and continues to do so – the bogus reason cited that they cannot operate services inside the city is just that, bogus. Also, looking at the funding levels, you could add up the increases in funding they gave to services that didn’t even request the level they received, and get enough to have continued the Springdale and Jefferson Place shelters,” Beaty said.
“There is no way Fulton County should get away with this underhanded victimizing of those homeless families, to say nothing of the hundreds of homeless women and children who could be using Springdale as temporary emergency housing that could, by individual need, ability and usage, be also transitional housing,” Beaty said.
“It’s just not that there isn’t the money, the money is there. It’s where the County and City chooses to put the money. It’s not with the women and children,” Omilami said.
“They raised millions of dollars for the new civil rights museum which opened here and yet they can’t come up with the money to keep a shelter for women and children open? Our priorities are skewed in a city that’s supposed to be about Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s legacy. I’m sure he’d say, ‘Don’t build any monuments to me. There’s been enough monuments. House these women and children, use the money to do that,’” she said, referring to the 2008 40 million dollar allocation from the Westside Tax Allocation District Public Purpose Fund by the Atlanta City Council to fund the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Omilami echoed the need for more affordable housing in the city.
“Many of the poor, since the rent went up the city, have moved out into the suburbs because the rent was cheaper out there. So now we’ve got the working poor isolated from jobs and the services, and then it looks like things are getting better, because the number of those who use the services are going down. No, it’s because people are leaving the inner-city to find more affordable housing,” Omilami said.
“Our city is a beautiful city. It doesn’t need any more parks, or pretty trees, or fancy buildings. We need to turn our faces to the people of the city. We need to save some human beings, now,” Omilami said.
Beaty said without the support of the City or the County for shelters, the problem will continue to worsen.
“We [the Task Force] have an overflow. And nothing’s being done. This is the tip of the iceberg. The enumeration to count the homeless is wrong. There’s many, many more people on the street than what the City claims. You can’t count homelessness in one night. We see what the need is every day and it certainly isn’t shrinking,” Beaty said.
“We have as many people as we can take. The women especially, they’re so appreciative of just a mat on the floor at our facility. And it’s heartbreaking. It breaks my heart that we can’t do more, and the City and County are doing so little.”
UPDATE: APN received a phonecall from Jason Tatum, Public Relations Director for the Gateway Center. A previous version of this article stated that once again, the Center was no longer providing services for homeless women. However, while Tatum confirmed that the Center again stopped providing beds for homeless women in August 2013, and still does not provide beds today, Tatum informed APN that the Center still provides drop-in services for homeless women. This article has been updated and corrected to reflect the additional information, and APN regrets the error.