Column: Atlanta recent actions on homelessness exude hypocrisy

Atlanta has recently gone through an apparent period of cultural prosperity – a trip to the Super Bowl, an Emmy for the television show “Atlanta”, the success of Migos, yet another rap group originating from the city, but throughout all of this success, one of Atlanta’s most storied problems remains intact: homelessness.

Fulton County has almost 6,000 homeless people within its borders – the most out of any county in Georgia, according to CBS46.  While it is not unexpected for Fulton County to have a large homeless population, the way in which they City of Atlanta treats the population is contaminated with hypocrisy.

In his most recent State of the City address, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the city would match the United Way’s contribution of $25 million to set up a fund to assist Atlanta’s homeless population. Large financial contributions to support a group of people that are struggling to support themselves financially is, in theory, an excellent concept. In an objective reality, the city would be applauded for making such a strong effort to support its homeless population; however, in our true present moment, this financial contribution is tarnished by the city’s current treatment of issues related to homelessness and the dehumanizing attitude which it has assumed while making decisions regarding them.

The largest blemish on Atlanta’s record of handling issues related to the homeless population is its effort to shut down the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter in Downtown. The area surrounding the shelter has been riddled with crime and an aggressive amount of drug dealing for years. The city cites these issues as reasons why the shelter should be shut down and the large homeless population that uses the shelter should be dispersed to other parts of the city. Mayor Reed has taken an aggressive stance on the issue, even going to far as to say that if an agreement cannot be reached the city would pursue taking the property via eminent domain.

A hard-line stance on shutting down a homeless shelter and further displacing a large homeless population does not show the empathy for homelessness that Mayor Reed likely wanted to convey through the announcement of the city’s new homeless fund; rather, it reveals a deep lack of understanding for the needs of the homeless population and a harsh lack of desire to understand those needs.

Eliminating a prominent option for support does not help the homeless population, it makes their lives more difficult. For the city to portray empathy for its homeless residents it should be committed to opening and maintaining as many homeless support systems as possible, not shutting down one of the city’s largest shelters. The complaints that Mayor Reed has made about the shelter – crime, drug dealing – are legitimate and need to be addressed more significantly, but in a way that alleviates these issues, not through a complete shut-down that creates more problems for the homeless population that relies on the shelter and resides in its surrounding area.

If the city plans on making financial contributions to the homeless population, it should consider making contributions aimed toward revitalizing the Peachtree-Pine shelter and supporting the homeless population that utilizes the services offered by the shelter. Ironically, in the same State of the City address that Mayor Reed announced the homeless fund, he also said that he believed the shelter would be shut down by the end of his term in 2017. Shutting down institutions that support the homeless and driving homeless individuals into different areas of the city does not match the city’s apparent goal of supporting the homeless, it undermines the legitimate efforts that the city is making to improve the quality of life of its homeless citizens.

While I would love to applaud the City of Atlanta for the strong financial commitment that it recently made to improve the lives of homeless individuals, I am unable to do so until the city places a stronger emphasis on maintaining the Peachtree-Pine shelter. Empathy does not operate through eradication, it functions through support.