Weve completely lost sight of what our city is doing to us. This blatant attack against the Task Force for the Homeless is not only biased, it arguably borderlines the breaching of a court order, and is being shrouding the bigger issues. One thing that has been conveniently looked over by the press is the other half of the Court Order. The order was for Starnes and the city to back away from operations of the Task Force for the Homeless and stop interfering with the funders of the Task Force for the Homeless. It also granted subpoena power to the attorneys of the Task Force regarding any memos, e mails, etc. from Starnes, the Mayor, and three others. I would like to personally thank the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Central Atlanta Progress, and Creative Loafing for allowing Ms. Starnes (WHO IS NOT A CITY EMPLOYEE) and Mayor Franklin to not implicate themselves in this blatant side- swiping of the public perception of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. But not to worry, you wont have to work hard to cover for them much longer for the subpoenaed documents will tell the story as it should be told. What we saw here was a perfect example of when the fair and balanced press takes a shot at an organization, it is not a political move, it is news.
Well, when members of Central Atlanta Progress, the AJC and Bruce Gunter, take a shot of this nature in Mondays paper it is a political move. The Creative Loafing had the chance to be exactly what they claim to be: an alternative news source. Instead, it sounds as if they called Colin Campbell and Rhonda Cook for advice of how to best slander Anita Beaty and the Task Force and still sound credible once again. This story, at best, editorialized and narrowly summed up a 27 year long battle between a local government and a homeless service provider. How many times are we as citizens of this city going to allow our press to cover this story so unfairly?
I have recently moved from Macon, GA to Atlanta. I was offered a position as an AmeriCorps member in Atlanta to serve at the Task Force for the Homeless. In order to afford to LIVE on an AmeriCorps stipend (less than minimum wage), I was allowed to move into the Task Force. I lived there for one year serving in one of the most respected and renowned domestic service program in the nation. My team served in New Orleans for a week among 200-300 other AmeriCorps members, most of which had heard of the AmeriCorps Force (The Task Force for the Homeless AmeriCorps Program) program.
During one of my 10 month terms of service at the Task Force I served under a Senegalese born American citizen that served our country in the first gulf war. After his service he suffered from PTSD and he became homeless. He was embraced by the Task Force, went through their transitional program and used their Photography Therapy program as a way out of depression and eventually came on as staff to run the program and become my supervisor.
I saw a man come from the place where we apparently warehouse people and move onto to drive our bus, taking women and children to their shelter placements that were made but a JOINT effort of service providers. I saw him work 16 hour days while he himself was experiencing homelessness to serve these women and children. He eventually moved on, and some would argue that he still is, to become the best caseworker women and children had in the city of Atlanta.
I saw men break down their macho shell and serve their fellow brothers and sister even during their most dire times because the people they were serving simply needed a hand up.
I answered calls on the citys ONLY 24 hour crisis hotline for placement and place hundreds of people in shelter. I also sat beside people that knew the shelter system because they were living in it while placing people at these lifelines of organizations.
To refute the charges that the Task Force staff is doing NOTHING to transition people out of homelessness I shall give you the numbers that JUST the AmeriCorps Force produced between 2007 and 2008. We served 16,472 hours. We served 31,181 people directly. We placed 1,955 people in temporary or permanent housing. We wrote 11,402 referrals for service. All of which was in a 10 month span. The AmeriCorps Force program has existed for 15 years every year producing similar numbers. The AmeriCorps Force members at Task Force serve under and with the Task Force staff and only make up a third of the Task Force caseworkers. Visit our website see the VAST amounts of services we provide, I beg you.
The yearly numbers of Task Forces success rate are significantly higher. Do not EVER claim that we are simply warehousing people when some of the staff is serving just under 80 hours a week some times in order to obtain fair and adequate housing for their fellow brothers and sisters because there is no other place for them to turn. You must visit our facility before such slanderous accusations are thrown about. By making such accusation you are not just attacking the idea of poor African American men on Peachtree Street in a classist and racist manner, you are attacking the very dignity of those who have given their lives to serve an unmet need and you are dehumanizing those which are being served by implying that they would allow themselves to be warehoused.
After so many startling and life changing experiences within those walls, I was asked to stay on as an employee as the director of their legal protection program. I started researching the organization for which I was going to work in order to better understand the politics of the organization.
I found editorials by Debi Starnes claiming the homeless to be as pigeons and street rats. I heard stories from former city officials about the closed door meetings regarding out facility. I found letters from public officials to the funders of the Task Force requesting that they no longer be funded, or threatening them if they do fund the Task Force. I interviewed the only two housing commissioners of the city of Atlanta and asked them why they chose to work for the Task Force if this organization was such a burden on the system for which they worked. I found by looking at the history of this building that every time Task Force dared to question the motives of the City or of Central Atlanta Progress they were slapped with articles and funding cuts such as these. I found Ms. Beaty and Co. not to be righteous hand-biters but justified whistle blowers that would not stand for injustice if that injustice would result in the frozen bodies of Atlanta citizens. Ms. Beaty is not biting the hand the feeds her. She is demanding the other hand to stop displacing poor people.
I have sat in meetings listening to City Officials claim that homelessness is not a City of Atlanta problem, that it is regional problem implying that people who are homeless in Atlanta are the problem of the greater Metro Area, not the Citys. Because if we can throw the problem on the region and move our shelter facilities outside the city limits, you can effectively decrease the homeless count inside the city limits and tout the ten year plan to end homelessness as working. Ive heard them say they have decreased homelessness by 16% in the worst recession weve seen since the great depression and the highest unemployment rate in Georgia in 20 something years!
Ive seen the Gateway stop taking referrals of women and children from us because of politics which results in people sleeping outside and sleeping shoulder to shoulder in our lobby. I have picked men up off the steps of Gateway at 9:30 at night in 21 degree weather. When asked why they would not let him in during such conditions, re replied, Im not in a program. He came back to the Task Force with us. Ive talked to people turned away from city facilities FOREVER because they do not have the means to WALK 2 HOURS from the new Ellis Street Location to the Atlanta Day Shelter from women and children. Ive seen the list of WOMEN that arent allowed to EVER receive service again because they have already been placed.
I saw Ms. Starnes and Co. plan the closing of Task Force and sell it by LYING to everyone saying they had the capacity to take 700-800 men on the COLDEST night Atlanta had seen so far. I took the call from the Gateway saying they only had the capacity to take 250 and heard Ms. Starnes say she could take 500. When questioned about the other 200-300 people, she stated she could produce those beds in less than a day. This would have and will be if our doors are shut the equivalent of a natural disaster. All of this implying that on the coldest night Atlanta had seen so far, the citys plan consisted of leaving 200-300 brothers and sisters in the cold. Veterans. Women. Children. Mentally Ill. Sick. Disabled. All in order to shut her down.
I found out the following day that their plan consisted of emergency natural disaster cots from the Red Cross in the halls of other service providers for only a short time and that if someone refused to be put into the system at Gateway, they would be put out into the cold. I learned that officials from NUMEROUS city departments met with United Way, the Regional Commission on Homelessness telling them that it was time to shut us down.
I also learned in that time frame, that if the courts stand behind us, as they have at our loudest points in history and seem to do now, we are doing something right. If we are protecting the dignity and the civil rights of our brothers and sisters, the courts will be required to order the City and Ms. Starnes to cease and desist this attack for it is unconstitutional.
I am ready for the day our city will stand up and say, No more of this! It is time that we tell the developers that want this town so badly that it is ours and they cannot have it. They can have their suburbs that they created in order to flee from integration in the 70s, but they cannot have our whole city. This is not too much to ask.
I beg you all to read Larry Keatings Study on the citys urban expansion: Race, Class, and Urban Expansion. Read Anita Beatys paper on the Olympics: Atlantas Olympic Legacy. Go to the library and see the MANY studies about this 40 year long effort. Read these studies and look up old articles to see that this is so much bigger than the politics between the Task Force and the City. Examine the relationship between the City Government, Central Atlanta Progress, and the major developers. This is an implementation of the sanitized corridor, the vagrant free zone, and the safe-guard zone(All Central Atlanta Progresss usage regarding Peachtree Street). Before you make blanket assumptions. Read read read. Take a break, and read read read some more. Without the historical context, your arguments are built on sand.
Seth C. Clark, Legal Protection Program Director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless
(apologies for the typos and errors)
Creative Loafing Atlanta
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