Atlanta Mayor Uses TB Outbreak as False Pretext To Attack Homeless Shelter
On Tuesday, August 11, 2015, Mayor Kasim Reed announced his intentions to take over the shelter, known colloquially at “Peachtree-Pine,” through eminent domain. The Mayor said he would demolish the building and construct a new shelter to house 300 to 400 people, presumably elsewhere; along with a new police station and fire station on the spot.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported the Mayor justified his claim by saying that “Peachtree and Pine is one of the leading sites for tuberculosis in the nation,” and that tuberculosis (TB) cases across the nation are “being traced back to Peachtree and Pine.”
According to the report, the Mayor claimed he met with a Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director who made these assertions.
Atlanta Progressive News reached out to the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), which confirmed that it had requested the CDC investigate when there was a spike in the number of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) cases reported from homeless shelters in Fulton County in 2013.
The investigation showed that a strain of TB first discovered in a patient residing at Peachtree and Pine in 2008, has now spread to eight other U.S. states.
Data shows that overall, the prevalence of TB in the United States has declined dramatically since 1992. Within the homeless population, though, there is a surge.
“Based on the results of the investigation, CDC recommended steps to stop transmission: TB testing, treatment, implementing a TB control plan for people experiencing homelessness, and ongoing monitoring,” Brian Katzowitz, a CDC spokesperson, told APN in an email.
Based on these recommendations, the Mayor’s proposal to shut down the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless arguably constitutes a public health threat, as the shelter is an important site for monitoring TB patients.
That’s according to an assessment conducted in July by Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness.
“The Health Department is pleased that your shelter facility has been able to fully implement 14/14 of the CDC recommended administrative controls,” a county medical director wrote to Anita Beaty, the shelter’s director, in a letter dated July 24, 2015, obtained by APN.
The shelter requires all clients to present verification of TB testing; screens for symptoms; and even keeps a “cough log,” among other precautionary measures.
DPH and the CDC both declined to comment on whether shutting down the shelter would in fact exacerbate the TB outbreak.
Nancy Nydam, a DPH spokesperson, did say that TB outbreaks tend to happen in spaces where at-risk populations are in close quarters. This includes homeless shelters, nursing homes, and prisons, she said.
The Mayor is not, however, considering shutting down any prisons or nursing homes.
Given the City’s history of animosity toward the shelter, it appears the Mayor is using the TB outbreak, as a pretext to further the interests of the downtown business community.
Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless is currently suing Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, Emory University, and others for conspiring to undermine the shelter’s financial stability by convincing funders to discontinue their support.
As previously reported by APN, the City of Atlanta was involved in the conspiracy, records show, but a federal court ruled they were immune from liability due to sovereign immunity.