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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter stays open for now

UPDATE: The AJC reports that a judge has ordered the city to restore the shelter's water service on the condition that the Task Force make a $15,000 payment by June 30.

Just after noon today, Anita Beaty, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless was involved in a drive-by: Her pro-bono attorney pulled up to the curb outside the giant Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter; Beaty came out of the building and signed some legal documents, which were then stamped by a notary on the hood of the car; and the attorney then raced off to Fulton Superior Court to try to get a judge to restore water service to the shelter.

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"Hopefully, we'll get relief from the court," Beaty said after the car pulled away. She said she expected to have a court hearing later in the day.

Beaty is in a race against time. The shelter stayed open last night, after the city had shut off its water because of unpaid bills, but had been ordered by Fulton County health officials to vacate the building by noon today if water service hadn't been restored.

Although the Task Force had missed the noon deadline, Beaty said she was talking with county officials about getting an extension. In the meantime, well-wishers continue to drop off cases of bottled water.

"While the county strictly enforcing the law, they're working with us to solve this problem," Beaty said. "They've been very helpful."

Even so, it's difficult to imagine the county allowing the shelter — which houses hundreds of homeless men at any given time — to remain open another hot summer night without working taps or toilets. The retaining wall across Pine Street from the building reeked of urine, with visible trails of liquid running down the sidewalk. Some of the men gathered outside the building complained of being threatened with arrest for trying to use the bathrooms in nearby buildings.

At the corner of Peachtree and Pine, homeless men and volunteers held up signs to solicit water and protest the city's actions. "Shame on Shirley!" shouted one man, in reference to Mayor Franklin.

Nearby, SoPo Bikes founder Racheal Spiewak handed out bottles of water to protesters. "Many of our volunteers live here at the shelter, so I'm showing my support," she said.

Beaty has called for a rally at 8 p.m. tonight in front of the shelter property at 477 Peachtree St. to protest the water cut-off.

But city officials say that, because the shelter's last two monthly water bills went unpaid, the Task Force must now pay the entire $180,000 owed to the city before the water will be turned back on.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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