UPDATE: A Fulton County judge could rule today on whether to restore the shelter's water, which would allow the compound to stay open. We'll have more for you soon.
The water has been turned off again at the city's largest homeless shelter and this time health officials have given the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless 24 hours to clear out of the building.
Back in December, the city shut off water service to the 100,000-square-foot shelter at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets because the Task Force had more than $160,000 in unpaid water bills. A judge quickly granted a temporary restraining order to have the water switched back on, but gave the city the power to cut service again if the Task Force failed to keep up with a fairly strict payment schedule.
That's where we are now. Anita Beaty, executive director of the Task Force, admits the group hadn't paid its bill.
"We didn't make the payments the last two months because we didn't have the money," she says.
Shortly after the water went off, investigators with the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness showed up at the shelter and served legal notice that unless water service is restored within 24 hours, the building must be vacated.
"If they don't vacate, the case will be turned over to law enforcement," says April Majors, a public information officer with the county health department, who says she doesn't believe it will come to that. "The management (of the shelter) is being very cooperative."
Also, she says, if the Task Force doesn't comply with the county order, it would be required to appear before the county's environmental court.
The Task Force has until noon Tuesday to clear out of the Peachtree-Pine shelter, Majors says, unless it can restore water service meaning drinkable water and working toilets.
Beaty says she's confident her organization can remain in the building, either because its attorneys will succeed in securing another court reprieve or the Task Force will be able to find an alternative water source.
"There are ways to get water in here that are perfectly legal," she says. "We're asking people to bring us water in buckets and pans."
Although Beaty told the AJC that she plans to keep the building open tonight, outreach workers from the city's Gateway Center spent the afternoon trying to coax Peachtree-Pine residents to come to the Atlanta shelter.
"We are prepared to help the men find other housing," says Debi Starnes, homeless services advisor to the Franklin administration. "Earlier, the Task Force brought some women over to Gateway in the back of a pickup truck."
The Peachtree-Pine shelter was put up for sale in March for $10 million and has generated some interest from potential buyers, but no deals have been made. One likely hurdle is Beaty's desire to relocate the Task Force operations as well as the shelter's estimated 350 homeless residents which would require the city to issue a special-use permit. The chances of that happening are slim and none.
Still, Beaty says that if the Task Force can just hang on to its home for another two or three weeks, something will happen she won't say what that will take care of the group's financial and legal woes.
"We expect a resolution," she says. "All our troubles will be over."
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
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