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Friday, November 11, 2011

Downtown homeless told to move along by Sunday

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 at 4:50 PM

MOVE ALONG AGAIN David, who asked we not show his face, has slept along the ledges across the street from City Hall for six weeks
  • Joeff Davis
  • MOVE ALONG AGAIN David, who asked we not show his face, has slept along the ledges across the street from City Hall for six weeks
Beginning several weeks ago, as many as 50 homeless men and women have taken to setting up and sleeping along the wide granite ledge that encircles a downtown plaza directly across Central Avenue from the Fulton County Courthouse and across Mitchell Street from Atlanta City Hall.

During the day, the men and women congregate along the ledges and planters. At night, long after the government workers and lawyers have gone home, the homeless folk rest on beds made from cardboard boxes and blankets until nearby churches start serving breakfast. If it's raining, some move under a tree on the grass outside City Hall, right under the office window of Mayor Kasim Reed. Others simply get drenched. Roaches the size of your little finger scurry along the wall. The concentration of homeless is so dense they've even earned a nickname from nearby outreach centers: "the ledge people."

"This is not how human beings are supposed to live," says Matthew Thomas, a 48-year-old Columbus native who's been sleeping on the ledge for two weeks.

Why they've recently converged on the perimeter of the state-owned Georgia Plaza Park isn't clear. Some have attributed the uptick to the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless' possible eviction from the Peachtree-Pine shelter. Other sources have hinted that the urban campers had occupied Woodruff Park before and during Occupy Atlanta's stay in the downtown greenspace. Everyone interviewed by CL noted that the site is conveniently located near a concentration of homeless service providers and relatively safer than sleeping under a bridge.

Apparently, however, the ledge-dwelling ends this weekend.

According to well-placed sources and the campers themselves, law enforcement officials have warned the group that portable barricades could be erected as early as Sunday along the ledges to deter people from sleeping there. Those who refuse to move along before Monday could face arrest.

Most public officials we spoke to would not comment and the Georgia Building Authority, which oversees the park property, didn't even return calls. But, according to background sources, the initiative to shut down the encampment began with several Fulton judges who last week met with the Fulton Sheriff's office, Atlanta Police and state officials to discuss how the situation should be handled.

“The judges are concerned about the safety and security of jurors because that’s the drop-off point [for jury duty],“ confirms Fulton Sheriff Ted Jackson, who adds out that his office does not have jurisdiction on state property.

In recent days, the number of people sleeping outside the park has dropped to about 15. Folks seem to have either moved into traditional shelters or simply found another place to sleep. According to Chuck Bowen, the executive director of the Central Presbyterian's Outreach and Advocacy Center, says the United Way's Street-to-Home team visited Central Avenue early Thursday morning to offer assistance placing some of the homeless people in transitional housing.

Regardless, those interviewed by CL were dismayed that law enforcement officials were simply ordering people to leave rather than working with resource providers to connect the homeless with supportive housing — which nearly all said they'd accept if offered.

"All you're doing is pushing people from one end of town to another," said David, who slept on the ledge for six weeks. "You're not helping anybody."

Bowen agrees: "The simple fact of the matter is there is not enough shelter space in the city right now to accommodate everyone who needs to be off the streets. Until the city leadership and the business community come together and realize there are not enough [overnight emergency and transitional housing] beds available we're never going to solve the problem. Instead what's happening is they're shuffling the homeless from one area to the other."

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