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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Could shelter showdown spell end for Peachtree-Pine?

Anita Beaty is right about one thing: City officials would love to shut down her enormous shelter at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets.

Yesterday morning, the city cut off the water service to the former warehouse building occupied by Beaty's Task Force for the Homeless. By evening, however, a judge had ordered the water turned back on. But unless Beaty is able to pay off a $160,000 water bill, the shelter may soon be forced to close down for good.

Anita Beaty
  • Anita Beaty

"It's very serious right now," says former Atlanta Councilwoman Myrtle Davis, who serves on the Task Force's board of directors. "This is part of a concerted effort by the city to shut us down."

Arguably so, but that doesn't change the apparent fact that the Task Force owes $160,000 in outstanding water bills. Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford ordered the shelter to come up with $6,000 by Friday and another $3,000 or so by next Wednesday, and to develop a reasonable plan for paying off the rest of the bill.

"If they miss either payment, the water goes back off," says Debi Starnes, another former councilwoman who now serves as Mayor Franklin's Homeless Czarina.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

According to Starnes, the water bill was in dispute for some time until earlier this year, when the city's water bill appeals board ruled that the Task Force owed the entire amount. Since then, she says, the shelter "has defaulted on every payment plan they've agreed to."

Davis, on the other hand, says city officials have been unwilling to come to the table to develop a workable plan. "It's really criminal what the city is doing," she says.

The adversarial situation goes back long before the water bill dispute. For years now, area business owners and residents have complained about panhandling, drug deals, public urination and petty crime in the blocks surrounding the shelter. The city's knock against the Task Force has been that it merely gives homeless men a place to sleep, but doesn't provide the social services to get them back on their feet.

And in the two years since opening its own Gateway Center shelter, the city has turned up the heat on the Task Force. Last year, the city dropped the Peachtree-Pine shelter from the list of recommended grantees it submits annually to HUD – a move that has cost the Task Force close to $1 million in federal and state grants, says Davis.

The financial crunch has hurt the shelter in many ways, but the water bill could be the nail in its coffin.

If the Task Force is forced to close its doors, Starnes says, the Gateway Center is prepared to pick up the slack by helping find beds for the nearly 700 men who stay there regularly.

"We're not interested in making it easier for people to remain homeless," says Starnes. "We want to enable them to get off the street."

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