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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Atlanta's largest homeless shelter loses appeal over water-bill dispute with city

Massive Peachtree-Pine shelter, the largest in the Southeast, has battled the city for years
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Massive Peachtree-Pine shelter, the largest in the Southeast, has battled the city for years
A panel of three judges yesterday rejected an appeal by the Metro Task Force for the Homeless over its long-running dispute with the city over unpaid water bills at the enormous shelter the nonprofit operates at the intersection of Peachtree and Pine streets.

The ruling's being called a major victory for City Hall, which has jousted with the task force for years. The shelter has been called inefficient and a magnet for crime by some neighbors and city officials. At the same time, it's been embraced by supporters and some activists as a vital resource for the metro region's homeless population.

A little bit of background: In late 2008, the city, citing more than $160,000 in unpaid water and sewer bills, shut off water service to the shelter, a 95,000 square-foot facility in downtown Atlanta that can house up to 700 homeless men each night.

In addition to winning an injunction to have the water service restored, the task force filed suit. When a federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in September 2011, the shelter appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a three-page opinion (PDF), the judges said that the task force did not properly plead a First Amendment claim or demonstrate an equal protection violation by the city. In addition, the judges agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash that the city did not deprive the shelter of due process.

"We are very pleased with today's ruling," City Attorney Cathy Hampton said in a statement on Tuesday. "We believed that this lawsuit had no merit, and we are gratified that both Judge Thrash and the Eleventh Circuit agreed with us."

It's unclear if the court's ruling is a final blow for the facility, possibly marking the end of a long dispute between the task force, city, and downtown business community. In May 2010, Ichthus Community Trust, a corporation controlled by Norcross-based commercial developer Manny Fialkow, bought two outstanding liens on the property and foreclosed on the shelter. The task force has fought eviction since.

A spokesman for Mayor Kasim Reed tells CL that the city is "weighing all options at this time" regarding the shelter, including what to do about any outstanding water bills.

Steve Hall, the task force's attorney, declined to discuss the ruling and future legal moves with CL, citing our previous coverage of the shelter.

Anita Beaty, the task force executive director who's earned critics and loyal allies for how she's operated the facility, did briefly tell CL last night that the nonprofit has "a lot of options. This is certainly not a final one."

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