Advocates Continue to Press Atlanta Council on Homeless Warming Centers
(APN) ATLANTA — On Monday, January 07, 2019, advocates continued to press the Atlanta City Council to force changes to the City’s policies related to the opening of warming centers; and to stop criminalizing homeless people through the enforcement of problematic city ordinances.
Atlanta continues to have a crisis of homelessness, made worse by the lack of affordable housing in Atlanta, but the City does not want to admit it and refuses to open all the warming centers even when it is below freezing.
A new coalition, Direct Action Hunger Alliance, led by formerly homeless people and advocates, took their concerns to the Full Council Meeting during the public comment section.
The alliance wants the City to open all its warming centers when temperatures drops below forty degrees, especially when there is inclement weather.
The coalition’s action started with a march around City Hall, with activists carrying coffins and crosses to represent the ten people who died of hypothermia in 2018.
The action ended with a “die-in” on the floor of the City Council Chambers, in which activists fell on the floor during Marshall Rancifer’s public comments, to represent the homeless people in Atlanta who have frozen to death.
The coalition also wants the City to increase the number of warming centers, create a city-wide transportation system to help people get to emergency shelters during wet inclement winter conditions, and repeal ordinances that criminalize the homeless.
“I was threatened with incarceration for standing under a shelter at a gas station pump to get out of a storm. The police told me I could not stand there and they did not care if it was raining. They made me leave,” Yusuf, an eighteen year-old homeless man, testified at a press conference on the steps of City Hall.
Another advocate tells an all too familiar story,
“I saw a group of homeless people seeking shelter at the abandoned Norfolk and Southern building when the police showed up in a pickup truck and stole all their bedding and run them out of the shelter into a cold rain,” Jimmy Raynor, an advocate for homeless people, said.
The City’s cruel and unusual urban camping ordinance (106-12) criminalizes homeless people sleeping outside and purports to authorize the City to confiscate homeless people’s few survival belongings.
Marshall Rancifer, a former homeless man-turned-advocate, spoke about finding some of his homeless friends frozen this winter.
Rancifer said he found Mr. Richard Brandfield on November 27, 2018 at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive and and Central Avenue. Brandfield was taken to Grady Hospital where he died from hypothermia.
On December 09, 2018, it was raining and the temperature was near freezing, but the warming centers were not open.
Rancifer picked up Lillian Hilman and tried to find a shelter for her but all the shelter were full.
“I had to put her back out on the street still wet and cold and I only had one blanket to give her. She was found the next morning next to the Georgia Pacific building froze to death,” Rancifer said.
On Christmas Eve, Rancifer worked the streets all night, giving out blankets and taking people to shelters which filled up fast and were full by 10 p.m..
He took nine people to Grady’s emergency room because “they were so cold they could not talk,” Rancifer said.
He added that the warming centers did not open that night even though the temperature was dropping to below freezing, which breaks city policy and protocol.
Rancifer said he has helped over 1,900 people get off the street with no help from the City.
Atlanta Progressive News has obtained statistics from the Fulton County Medical Examiner showing that in 2018 ten people died from hypothermia. This includes six Black males, one Black female, two White females, and one White male.
The majority of the recorded hypothermia deaths appear to involve homeless people, although one White male was found in an apartment and one White female was found possibly in a home.
Over a five year period, from December 2014 to January 2018, 61 people died from hypothermia.
“There are not many places for us to go when it is raining and cold and the shelters are full. So we find a place to go outside, but that is illegal, so we get arrested and our children are in D-FaCS (the Department of Family and Children Services). So what are we to do? You concern yourselves more about money and Super Bowls. Maybe you should concern yourself more about homeless people,” Melinda Lipsey, a formerly homeless mother, testified to Council Members.
Sylvia Broome started working with homeless people in 2011 with a group called Church on the Street.
Broome found one of her homeless friends, Arthur, frozen to death on the front steps of a church.
Another homeless friend, J.J., had his finger amputated from frostbite, she said. “I give out hand warmers every winter and hope no one else will lose their fingers,” Broome said.
Tommy Mashburn testified that he took care of his mother for ten years, but that when she passed, he was put out in the streets. Now, he carries his mother’s ashes and all his worldly possessions with him everywhere.
“I have health issues, I have lost two toes and about to lose my leg. I’m willing to work, but because of my past felony record, it’s hard to find a job,” Mashburn said.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)