95,000 sq. ft.

Prime real estate effectively owned by the poor, Atlanta’s Task Force for the Homeless calls a 95,000 sq. ft. facility smack in-between downtown and midtown on Peachtree Street home. The four-story brick building can house over 1000 people on a cold night and provides a myriad of housing, social work, art, and employment programs to people living on the streets.

The fa ade of the building on Peachtree Street shows signs of renovation as work has begun on the upgrading of the Taskforce’s art gallery to include a coffee-shop to be called Blends. Blends hopes to showcase artwork of current and former clients created in their photography and visual arts programs and to create a space to be shared by the homeless, formerly homeless, and never-been homeless where they can interact, learn from one another, and relax. All this, while creating a source of revenue to help support Taskforce operations. Development Coordinator Keely Harris describes the vision for the use of the space as, “a way for the downtown community to interface with the homeless community.” This space is currently home to Our Studio, the Taskforce’s visual arts program. The 16-foot ceilings and ample natural light make for a creative environment that many working, un-homeless artists would envy.

The current main entrance to the Taskforce is around the corner on Pine Street, where you enter through The Garage. The Garage is something of a first stage entry into the Taskforce where clients get checked in by a fellow client working security that day and wait to be directed to the appropriate area. It is filled with over 300 folding chairs and usually just as many people. When the 340 bed shelter is full, The Garage serves as overflow and a place where people can come to stay warm. Through The Garage one can reach the computer lab, the library, and the Our Voices photography program. The photography program director and former client, Boubacar Sarr, described the program as aiming to “start with the arts and then transcend that to find out what the clients’ aspirations are.” The art program provided a turning point for Sarr and helped him regain his footing after health and financial difficulties left him homeless. Sarr is not alone in his place at the taskforce, as more than half of the employees are former clients.

Our Voices recently had an exhibition at Decatur’s Java Monkey coffeehouse that explored themes of exposure, culture, space, experiment, and identity. All works were by members of the Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless, and while many of the pieces had titles, none of them identified the individual photographer. The group collectively decided that their images represent a unified voice and perspective in which individual recognition is unimportant. The themes speak of a bigger exhibition that is being pieced together downtown.

While the Taskforce endures a future fraught with the struggle of being undesirable in the eyes of many in the neighborhood, it looks to become stronger through advocacy that reduces the causes of homelessness, greener through technology and a rooftop garden program, and more sustainable through creating its own revenue stream. Although their vision of creating an ‘inclusive’ space for interaction between diverse individuals and communities stripped of bias and stereotype is a large one, their current programs are setting the course, and the entire third and fourth floors of their building are as of yet undeveloped, giving them plenty of room to work with.

Our Voices photography can be viewed online at www.our-voices.org. Atlanta’s Taskforce for the Homeless’ arts programs are supported 100% through donated supplies and services and they also are always seeking donations of personal care products, janitorial supplies, and office supplies. To support their efforts, please call (404)230-5000 or visit www.homelesstaskforce.org to find out how you can get involved.