Anti-Homeless

Atlanta understands progress as a force which comes from outside to judge and revitalize the city. We eagerly fight for the Olympic Games, major conventions, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and any other indication that the rest of world has forgiven our embarrassing origins. Unfortunately, the city's pursuit of outside approval seems to necessitate the marginalization of those, like the homeless, who are least able to defend themselves. Like many cities whose economies rely on large convention crowds, Atlanta has a tendency to vilify the homeless. In the name of progress, they are forced further and further from the sight of the city's wealthiest businesses.

In 2003, mayor Shirley Franklin issued an executive order prohibiting all charitable food donations outside of homeless shelters, claiming, "Feeding the hungry is a health hazard." Since this pronouncement and the city's 2005 panhandling ban, Atlanta has been consistently placed among The National Coalition for the Homeless' Top 5 "meanest cities," ranking second in 2003 and fourth in 2006. Atlanta's tough anti-homeless laws and regulations can be traced to the city's precarious position as a center of Southern commerce. Atlanta's controversial panhandling ban specifically targets begging within downtown's "tourist triangle," and was defended as a way to improve Atlanta's perception among potential business investors. In addition to the panhandling ban, the downtown Ambassador Force have been instructed to harass the homeless who spend their days in Woodruff Park, and a camp at the intersection of Peachtree and Pine Streets was recently cleared. These measures have drastically reduced the number of homeless in downtown Atlanta.

In a 2006 protest against these harsher regulations, Reverend Lauren Cogswell, pastor of the Open Door Community, depicted investor-focused laws and developments as betrayals of Atlanta's homeless community: "This is Atlanta's new segregationů [The new laws] make the rich business folks feel comfortable and get rid of the poor."

Once identified as obstacles in the way of the coveted "convention city" status, the downtown homeless population has been made invisible by stopgap solutions whose main purpose is to remove the city’s 17,000 homeless people from the public eye. As the Beltline Project begins, the homeless population could be forced even further from the resources they rely on for survival. Driven out of downtown, many have moved into the abandoned spaces that the Beltline Partnership plans to revitalize. The Beltline Project is seen as a way to shift Atlanta's image away from associations with the decaying South and closer to the New South "of union and freedomů living, breathing, and growing every hour." Unfortunately, the $2.8 billion Beltline will replicate the same processes as panhandling laws. Once the project is underway, the homeless camped on or near the Beltline will be pushed even further from the city center, forced to patronize less capable shelters and find new spaces. "Many of our clients have lived in [the city] for decades," explains Nick Hess of the Mad Housers. "A lot of these guys won't survive moving further out into the woods." As the homeless population moves further from the city center, they also move further from city- and privately-run resources designed to help them, leaving them both threatened by lack of medical aid, and less likely to seek assistance escaping homelessness.