Downtown development group, Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), has gained possession of the Peachtree-pine homeless shelter from the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.
This outcome concluded a long fought lawsuit between the two groups. The Task force, which coordinates with churches and outreach ministries to provide agency for the homeless, obtained the building in 1997. Since then, the task force has been locked in litigation to maintain ownership of the battle.
Former Executive Director of the homeless shelter, Anita Beaty, has been fighting Atlanta, CAP, and Atlanta’s business community to maintain ownership of the property. She said the CAP and the aforementioned groups worked together to block the shelter’s funding and disrupt the Task Force’s operations in order to gain ownership of the facility.
“The Task Force for the Homeless has struggled for twenty years since we got the building. The city and CAP began to move against us and attack our funding,” Beaty said.
The Task Force filed a civil suit in 2010 indicated that the defendants, one of whom was developer Emanuel Fialkow who was accused of trying to attain the property through an entity called Ichthus Community Trust, engaged in “false letter writing campaigns” wherein individuals and businesses sent false accounts about the Task Force to governmental authorities.
Additionally the suit laid out that, from 2008, CAP interfered with the shelter’s business relationships and tried to have the building foreclosed. Due to these efforts and others laid out in the suit, the Task Force “lost millions of dollars in funding…and [had] been financially crippled.”
Beaty said this prevented the shelter from getting renovations and paying off its debts. That same year, Ichthus responded with a SLAPP suit denying the collusion.
In 2015, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the advocacy should have a jury trial to decide whether the CAP and others had colluded against the Task Force. In a summary written by Jane Hansen, Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court of Georgia, the court concluded that there “is evidence, however, that Fialkow may have been part of a concerted action with a common design insofar as his role in acquiring the notes on the property through defendant Ichthus.”
However, Beaty said the jury trial never went through. The court dates for the trial were continuously rescheduled, with the most recent rescheduling being in October of 2016.
“[The trial] was moved because the two of three board members left on the Task Force side, by a majority, voted not to go to court and supported the lawyers who said going to court is a lose lose situation. Some of the former board members didn’t agree with that, but they did not prevail; nor did I,” Beaty said.
The lawsuit ended with the shelter being signed over to CAP and the city of Atlanta was dismissed as a party in the suit due to sovereign immunity. CAP was unable to comment on the lawsuit, but the downtown developer provided a press release on June 23 that said the residents of the former shelter will be placed in other homeless facilities.
“The parties involved in the Peachtree-Pine Homeless Shelter lawsuit have settled their differences over various legal matters. The settlement agreement also authorizes Central Atlanta Progress, working closely with The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, to proceed with plans to place the current residents of the Peachtree-Pine shelter into other suitable facilities,” the press release stated.
United Way’s Regional Commission on Homelessness will aid in the relocation of the shelters former residents. Edward Hardin, co-chair of the Commission, said his group will investigate the needs of the homeless population around Peachtree-Pine, although not all former residents of the shelter are expected to be moved into other shelters.
“At the same time we are in the process of opening a facility for women and women with children in partnership with Families First that we expect to call upon for the women and children we believe to be at Peachtree and Pine,” Hardin said.
The Task Force’s current chair of Board of Directors and Georgia State history professor Charles Steffen, said the shelter was a “political lightning rod” the moment it opened its doors. The building needed proper zoning and building permits, but the shelter faced many difficulties securing these licenses.
“The Task Force faced an awful lot of opposition every step of the way,” Steffen said.
However, Steffen said the settlement gave the Task Force its best chance at fulfilling its agenda of providing for the homeless and advocating for policies that address homelessness in the city.
“The Board of Directors reached the conclusion that while it wasn’t happy leaving the home that it had occupied for twenty years, the terms of the settlement would give us the chance to get back on our feet and continue to fight for this cause of social justice that has motivated us from the beginning,” Steffen said.
The Task Force plans to relocate and further its mission with the settlement funds that resulted from the conclusion of the dispute. Steffen said the group will coordinate with the “principle progressive organizations” in Atlanta to advocate for housing equality and fight against the criminalization of poverty.
“We’re hitting the restart button; we have the financial resources to make make these dreams a reality,” Steffen said.
Steffen said the funds will also cover the shelters debt that had accumulated during the lawsuit. The shelter will officially close down on Aug. 28.