Here was a recent story on NPR.
The short version is this: Atlanta’s largest homeless shelter, Peachtree-Pine, is more than likely going to be forced to shut down by the City of Atlanta.
Protests hoping to invoke the reversal of recent strong-armed decisions are in full force this week as Atlanta works to close this shelter down putting between 400-600 homeless men onto the streets.
Local neighborhood associations are blaming the shelter for an increase in petty crimes and even inhabitants say it is an unsafe place to live. There is no hot water and no paid staff. In many ways it is an ‘every man for himself’ environment. Being that it is in the center of downtown Atlanta, it is also a deterrent to downtown commerce. I’ve experienced the vast number of homeless men in this city first hand and it is difficult to go about your business while being approached for a hand out at every corner.
The shelter was foreclosed on last May and is now in the hands of a lender. But the previous owners, Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, are fighting to regain possession claiming that Atlanta government and local businesses conspired against it by pressuring donors to pull funding for the shelter. The previous owners went roughly $900,000 in debt before losing the property.
I have a lot of questions as I try to think through this issue. Here are some issues that I think are worth exploring:
Is this shelter doing these men a service or a disservice?
What I mean is, does this shelter provide opportunities for these men to grow or advance in their personal or professional lives?
Does it provide resources for help with mental health issues, education, or social skill development? Or is this a bare-bones operation that provides a roof over their head an nothing else?
I’m going to go ahead and say that as it stands this shelter, though well-intentioned, is doing a disservice to both these men and to the city of Atlanta. I know that sounds horrible because it is providing shelter for the most vulnerable, which is favorable, but it isn’t treating these men as if they have anything to offer the world. As it stands it is a system resting on it’s laurels. The MATFH, though, has a dream that moves far beyond laurel resting into the world of responsible charity. Here is their vision:
The vision for our building is to create a sustainable, inclusive community
within a smart, green building, including homeless, formerly homeless,
and never-been homeless people living, working, playing, learning and
helping each other. This inclusive, celebratory and creative community is
important because Peachtree-Pine sits in the middle of downtown Atlanta,
demonstrating the possibilities of an alternative community that ends
homelessness and serves as a model for re-including excluded people in
our buildings, on our blocks, in our neighborhoods, and in our cities.
That’s an outstanding vision. In a world where social service programs are spread so thin that their only hope is to mechanize personal and social development and government funding is fickle at best a vision rooted in an interdependent community that is racially, socially, and economically diverse might be one of the greatest dreams to grace the city of Atlanta.
So I ask, if the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless were given the proper funding and support would they and could they pull this vision off? Why was this community not developed when the shelter had proper funding? Who are these “never been homeless” people that are willing to sacrifice the American Dream for this sort of intentional community?
Also, why is it so important that this building be in downtown Atlanta? Is there a location where this shelter could move that is close to downtown but that doesn’t disrupt local economic development or commerce that might be more suitable for a massive amount of otherwise homeless people?
I don’t want to advocate for placing these men on the streets, which is the most likely outcome of shutting this shelter down. From the NPR article:
Protip Biswas heads the Regional Commission on Homelessness for Atlanta’s United Way. His agency is pushing what’s known as case management. It’s a national trend in fighting homelessness and ties a shelter bed to social services. He says large shelters like this one are old-fashioned and make being homeless easy.
Mr. PROTIP BISWAS (Executive Director, Regional Commission on Homelessness, United Way): The philosophy of holding on to these men, sort of warehousing them, not letting the community come in and work with these men is not an approach that I agree with.
Mr. Biswas makes an interesting point but I’m not convinced the social services in Atlanta are prepared to step up and receive this many homeless people at once and many of them are likely to fall through the cracks. In fact, these are the men who have fallen through the cracks so what proof is there that disbanding this shelter would ultimately be a better option for these men?
So there’s the dream. What if these men were allowed to stay. And more, what if other people decided to leave their homes and move into community with these folks? What if downtown Atlanta became an archetype for Christian community, in the tradition of the early church in Acts?
Could Atlanta look like this?:
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.