Bill Torpy at Large: New tactic to close Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter: ISIS

Tuberculosis couldn’t shut down the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter, nor could foreclosure proceedings. So now Mayor Kasim Reed figures the threat of terrorism might do the trick.

The mayor recently said he might use eminent domain to close the shelter and turn the old 95,000-square-foot warehouse into a police-fire emergency center, complete with a helipad on the roof.

He’s brought up the idea before. But at a recent luncheon, he added the threat of ISIS and said the shelter — which is near the Downtown Connector — would allow emergency teams to quickly respond to events anywhere in the city. He assumes a judge will go along with his appeal to public safety.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to shut it down before I leave office,” vowed Reed, who has 17 months.

It’s an innovative approach from Hizzoner’s lawyerly mind, which never stops whirling. But my guess is nothing happens until after a long-running lawsuit filed by the shelter gets its day in court in October. The shelter has accused the city’s Powers That Be of colluding to dry up the its finances, run them off and open the area for development. The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled there’s enough evidence to send this to a jury.

Anita Beaty, the grandmotherly firebrand who runs the shelter, waved off the mayor’s latest strategery as “same story, second verse.”

Actually, it’s more like the 12th verse. For five years, I and others have written many stories of Peachtree-Pine’s imminent demise. Yet, there it still stands, a sad fortress serving as a collection point for the flotsam and jetsam of humanity. A place to go when there is nowhere else.

Neighboring residents and businesses have complained for years about the shelter’s ruinous effect on the area. That’s what happens when 500 people nobody wants converge on a single block — the crazies, the drug-addled, the lost and luckless.

TB outbreaks at the shelter have caused public health officials, including those at the CDC, “grave concerns,” according to a letter last year. The shelter, and three others, later signed memorandums of understanding with Fulton County’s health department to treat and try to stop its spread.

A bay area in the building serves as a day hangout. The expansive, stuffy area filled with a couple hundred metal folding chairs and tired, idling men watching TV looks like a way station for Purgatory. But the room keeps them from wandering the streets, stooping in doorways and getting chased along by police.

Peachtree-Pine, as ugly and chaotic as it is, falls into a “too big to fail” category because the city, Fulton County and nonprofits have not created enough beds to park all the bodies who end up there. In winter, crowds of 700-plus sleep there.

In fact Gateway, the city’s official and well-funded homeless facility, can’t accommodate the hundreds needing emergency shelter. A few years ago, Gateway stopped taking female walk-ins.

At a recent visit to Peachtree-Pine, I almost stepped on a young woman resting on a sleeping pad in a hallway near the office. The hallways and office floor were covered with pads. Troy Harris, a volunteer who used to be homeless, said 70 women usually sleep there. Another room contained women and children. It was a wrenching sight.

If the city wants to shift residents to smaller facilities — and it must — then there have to be places to put them, especially women and children. If the Powers That Be were really on it, really wanted to get it done, then the mats in Peachtree-Pine’s hallways would not be needed for the women and kids.

The mayor’s office, in an email, said homelessness in Atlanta is down 26 percent since 2013, adding that Peachtree-Pine’s residents “will be connected with resources. In fact, the community of homeless service providers in the city have already established a plan to serve the individuals and families staying in the shelter.”

Last week, authorities met with residents near Metropolitan Parkway, where a homeless facility for families is being considered. I just wrote about the long-troubled Pittsburgh community there trying to pull itself up. Residents aren’t happy about the new plan. Homeless centers rank high on the NIMBY meter.

And then there’s the lawsuit coming to trial. The shelter contends a cabal of business, nonprofits and city officials conspired to spread damaging info about Peachtree-Pine to dry up public grants and private donations. Tax records show the shelter’s revenue dropped from $1.6 million in 2005 to $355,000 in 2009.

Then in 2010, a charity was created by a developer seemingly for the sole purpose of taking over loans to the shelter by two nonprofit agencies. Then the new holder of the loan moved to foreclose on the shelter and evict them.

“They starve us and then say, ‘You’re not paying your bills,’” Anita Beaty said.

The supreme court wrote, “Evidence suggests that defendants may have been improperly interfering with the relationships between (the shelter) and the lenders by making misleading statements about (the shelter) in order to persuade lenders to sever their relationship.”

If they win the case, Beaty said “you’d imagine we’d get the building back free and clear.”

And the beat goes on.

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