Atlanta settles lawsuit with ACLU & Task Force for the Homeless

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 24 Jul 1999 20:39:00 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.amcity.com:80/atlanta/stories/1999/07/19/editorial1.html
FWD  Atlanta Business Chronicle EDITORIAL - July 19, 1999

    COMPROMISE NEEDED TO HELP THE HOMELESS

Wise men have been trying for years to create peace in the Middle East.

It looks like solving the problem of downtown Atlanta's homeless is going
to be about as successful, and just as quick.

The latest reason is a tug of war between two rival camps.

On one side is the business community, led by Central Atlanta Progress
(CAP), trying to make downtown the kind of place people want to live and
work in.

On the other side are homeless advocates, led by the Task Force for the
Homeless, pulling for the rights of the powerless.

Homeless advocates scored a victory July 12 when Atlanta settled a lawsuit
brought by the Task Force for the Homeless and the American Civil Liberties
Union. The lawsuit stemmed from the city's decision before the 1996
Olympics to adopt the so-called "urban camping" ordinance, which allowed
police to arrest homeless people living or sleeping in public places. The
settlement of the lawsuit makes it much more difficult to make such arrests.

>From one perspective, the settlement is a big setback for downtown. Fear of
panhandlers and vagrants is a reason more people don't go there.

But Bob Cramer, chairman of the Task Force for the Homeless, said the
ordinance made criminals of the homeless just because they were homeless.
And there are already plenty of laws on the books that let the police
arrest people committing crimes.

He said CAP, the business community and City Council member Debi Starnes,
who sponsored the ordinance, are only "messing up the positive work" of the
Task Force.

Cramer said the business community wants the homeless off the streets, and
the Task Force wants that, too. But instead of working together, CAP has
attacked the Task Force and threatened its efforts, he said.

A couple of years ago, the Task Force opened a shelter called the Center at
Peachtree and Pine. It wants to open a second shelter on Whitehall Street
in a building it now has under contract to buy.

"The business community has fought us every step of the way" over the
Center at Peachtree and Pine. "It is something we could all be very proud
of. It could be the most innovative facility to help homeless people that
we have ... But they should stop attacking the Task Force and let us go
ahead and do this. It's desperately needed; we've all known that. And now
we've got a building to do it."

Cramer is right that Atlanta can do much more for the homeless. But
advocates like him can't turn a blind eye to the secondary problems they
cause.

The problem of the homeless is not the individual, but the congregation of
many homeless in one area. Downtown has a disproportionate problem because
the homeless assemble there from everywhere for its shelters and soup
kitchens.

Everyone who has an interest in the revitalization of downtown needs to
play a role in solving the homeless problem.

* The business community should negotiate an agreement with the Task Force
for the Homeless to find locations for new shelters, and open its wallet.

* Homeless advocates need to drop the attitude that the rights of the
homeless precede everyone else's.

* The state and Fulton County need to provide more access to substance
abuse treatment.

* And most of all, Mayor Bill Campbell needs to work to bring all the
parties together.

Downtown Atlanta now is healthier than it has been in recent memory.
Finding homes for the homeless will promote downtown's revitalization and
help it reach its full potential.

One thing is certain: The homeless aren't going to go away.

END FORWARD

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