Homeless Youth Focus of Work Session by Atlanta Council Committee
(APN) ATLANTA – On Wednesday, March 09, 2022 the Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee of the City Council of Atlanta held a Work Session on proposed City of Atlanta Ordinance 22-O-1076, which would add exemptions to Atlanta’s curfew laws for homeless teenagers and emancipated teenagers.
Previously, as reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the Committee considered the ordinance, introduced by Councilman Byron Amos (District 3), at its January 24, 2022 Committee Meeting,
“I don’t feel as if a by-product of being homeless should be being arrested,” Amos told the Committee.
The Work Session was chaired by Committee Chairman Dustin Hillis (District 9); and was attended by Amos, Andrea Boone (District 10), and Keisha Waites (Post 3-at-large).
Atlanta Police Department (APD) Deputy Chief Darin Schierbaum said that APD had reviewed the prior year’s statistics and said that they were pleased to have found no incidents in which a youth, who was deemed to be homeless, was arrested for a curfew violation.
“As it speaks to the, our approach, if our officers tonight should encounter a juvenile in violation of the curfew, and we can determine that the individual is homeless for whatever reason may be, the first course of action is turning to the Department of Family and Children Services, that is what our policy calls for us to do, not proceed with an arrest action, if that is the sole reason the officer is encountering the juvenile,” Schierbaum said.
“Outside of DFACS, the primary after-hours response for assisting a juvenile would be the @Promise Centers. We currently have three of those located in the City… We would refer to those, they do have an after-hours protocol… do an assessment and then follow the protocols to connect that young man or young woman to the resources under the @Promise umbrella,” he said.
Deputy Solicitor Erika D. Smith said she and Solicitor Raines Carter want to make sure that parents and guardians are not exempted from their responsibilities to supervise the children within their care under a separate code section, 106-228, “which puts the onus on the parents.”
“The reason I felt like it was so important for us to show up today, is that, as long as the penalty of physical arrest remains in the Code, there’s always the possibility that that may in fact happen, whether it’s, you know, an officer that’s not very well trained or kind of, you know, depending on the circumstances,” Moki Macias, Executive Director of Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative, said.
“And that, I think that arresting a child for being out at night is probably not the most effective way to address the issue,” Macias said.
“Our recommendation is to reclassify the charge as a ticketable offense, maintain the existing exemptions, add any new ones that feel necessary, but really the concern to us is the penalty of physical arrest,” Macias said.
“At Covenant House, our Mission is, it implores us to treat our young people with unconditional love and absolute respect and to show grace whenever possible,” Miko Colonel, Shelter Coordinator, Covenant House Georgia, said.
Covenant House Georgia is one of the largest service providers for homeless youth, providing a shelter for youth eighteen and over, as well as a Drop-In Center serving teenagers and young adults.
“Our youth experiencing homelessness need support instead of sanctions, and we find that experience in the criminal justice system just creates another barrier for our youth in obtaining housing, sometimes financial aid, and obtaining job security, and some public benefits,” Colonel said.
“We are in support of amending… to exempt homeless youth from criminalization and placing them into the criminal justice system,” Diana Mason, Director of Outreach for CHRIS 180, said.
“When we’re talking about mental and physical ailments that these youth may be experiencing in the homeless condition, we have to understand there are higher rates of chronic homelessness,” Mason said.
“And so what that means also if we criminalize them for being on the streets within that time frame, it will also as well have them repeatedly in the system and create those barriers as Covenant House has mentioned,” Mason said.
“And that would definitely prevent them from receiving future benefits in the long run that would help stabilize their situation,” Mason said.
“Decriminalizing homeless youth will reduce their stress factors and improve their health and mental capacity,” she said.
Sana Ali, the Homeless Liaison for Atlanta Public Schools, said that APS has found some 1,100 homeless children who are APS students, either homeless and living with their family, or homeless and on their own.
Ali said that APS has seen a recent increase of families living in their cars, especially due to the increasing cost of housing in Atlanta.
Ali said that two to three percent of the homeless children are currently completely unsheltered.
Devin Barrington-Ward, a formerly homeless young person in Atlanta, made public comments.
Barrington-Ward said he had served on the Reimagining Atlanta City Detention Center Task Force as an appointee of then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and also that he served on the Task Force’s policy subcommittee.
“We need to be looking at ways that we can decriminalize the Code,” he said.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2022)