After Homeless Deaths, Activists Push City on Warming Centers
(APN) ATLANTA — At least two homeless people have frozen to death in recent weeks after sleeping on the streets of Atlanta this very cold and wet winter. Now activists are asking the City of Atlanta to make changes to its warming center policies to prevent more deaths from occurring.
One homeless man named Ricky died on November 27, 2018; and a homeless woman died on December 09, according to Marshall Rancifer, an advocate who works with homeless people.
Another seven homeless people died in January and February of 2018, for a total of nine this calendar year, Rancifer said.
Advocates demanded that all three warming centers to be opened more frequently and for longer durations, at a press conference on Friday, December 14, 2018, on the steps of Atlanta City Hall.
Rancifer spends nearly every cold night handing out blankets, coats, chemical hand warmers, and other survival items; and takes the unsheltered to warming centers and/or shelters that have capacity during freezing weather.
While Rancifer was working the streets on a cold and rainy Saturday night, December 08, with bone chilling wind, he gave a blanket to a women near the Peachtree Center MARTA station. Later that night, she died from hypothermia.
“She died needlessly for no reason other than the fact that they would not open one single warming center Saturday night when it was so cold and raining,” Rancifer said.
“The City is not providing enough warming beds and shelter beds. They are providing about 249 beds for over seven hundred unsheltered people,” Rancifer said, referring to the conservative “point in time” estimate of homeless people in Atlanta.
“It’s cold out here, but do you know what is colder? The blood that runs through the veins of these City Councilmembers,” said Matthew Charles Cardinale, a candidate for Atlanta City Council District 3 in the March 19, 2019 Special Election, and founder of Atlanta Progressive News.
“People have been turned away from the warming shelters. It’s negligence; it’s homicide,” Cardinale said.
Cardinale called for the temperature threshold to be raised from 32 degrees to forty degrees and for warming centers to stay open not just at night, but during the daytime as well.
Among the activists present was Haroun Shahid Wakil, founder of the Streetgroomers, who, with his crew, goes out on a “Late Night Walk” to feed and pass out blankets, coats, and other items to homeless people sleeping in the streets.
This determined coalition of homeless advocates then took their demands to the Mayor’s office.
Jon Keen, Deputy Chief Operating Officer with the City of Atlanta, listened to their concerns.
Cardinale demanded a commitment from the Administration to raise the temperature threshold to forty degrees from 32 degree in activating the warming centers.
“You know our work through Partners for Homes and Continuum of Care and the capacity of our shelter partners on any given day or night; especially when we go below forty degrees, many of our partners open their shelters,” Keen told the advocates.
“But that is just a little over 179 beds for over seven hundred unsheltered adults, and that does not count the unsheltered youth,” Rancifer countered.
“I understand there is a partnership model for providing shelter, but that’s not working right now. We need the city to be a little more engaged, rather than relying solely on partners. What can the city immediately do?” Devin Barrington-Ward, an activist for LGBTQI homeless youth, wanted to know.
“You have the solution, but you don’t want to do it. How many people have to freeze to death out there?” Margie McLeod, a concerned citizen, asked.
“So you are telling us there is not enough capacity? What about the Peachtree and Pine building that is still sitting there empty?” Cardinale said.
“What we do is use our partnership model and then we have activation criteria focused on weather severity as well as partner capacity. So when our weather capacity starts to approach its limit, we activate our warming centers,” Keen explained.
“We don’t want to hear that BS, open the warming centers,” Wakil said.
Then, Richard Cox, Chief Operating Officer for the City of Atlanta, entered the room to shut down the conversation.
“Every time Jon tries to answer a question, someone else jumps in and that is not productive. We are going to wrap this up and we appreciate your time,” Cox said as he and Keen left.
“They are using this old, ‘you are speaking out of turn excuse’ because they don’t want to answer us or make any changes. They don’t have a heart and that is what is really going on,” Cardinale concluded.
“If you are going to get all upset over questions, please… what kind of city administration can’t deal with upset constituents?,” Richard Pellegrino, a Streetgroomers member, said.
Currently, the City needs more shelters, transitional housing, and affordable housing to service all the people in need of shelter since the closing of the largest homeless shelter in the southeastern U.S., the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless shelter at Peachtree and Pine. This outcome was predicted by advocates of the homeless, but the powers that be did not listen or care.
Advocates insist this is only the first chapter in an effort that will not cease until the City takes all necessary measures to prevent the deaths of homeless people on the streets of Atlanta.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)