Fulton to jettison two homeless shelters


Fulton to jettison two homeless shelters

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Hyosub Shin
The Jefferson Place Emergency Shelter in Atlanta on Friday, February 29, 2014. Fulton County will spent $1.3 million this year on critical repairs needed at its leaky, moldy Government Center downtown. But neglect of other county facilities already has cost Fulton taxpayers more than $400,000 in emergency repairs over the last year, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation shows. The money paid for quick fixes to leaks, mold, rodents and other problems at the Fulton County Justice Center and other facilities. Because they were approved to address emergencies, all of the contracts were awarded without competition. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Springdale Place

Opened in 2012. Serves women and their children, 150 beds

Includes vocational training, counseling, life skills.

Jefferson Place

Emergency shelter opened in 1991 and serves 150 men.

Includes drug and alcohol treatment and counseling.

Transitional center, which opened in 1993, has 50 beds and remains open.

Tri-J homeless count. (Includes Atlanta and DeKalb and Fulton counties.)

Year Total homeless Unsheltered

2003 - 6,557 2,304

2007 - 6,840 2,115

2013 - 6,664 2,007

Tri-J homeless count. (Includes Atlanta and DeKalb and Fulton counties.)

Year Total homeless Unsheltered

2003 - 6,557 2,304

2007 - 6,840 2,115

2013 - 6,664 2,007

Last year on its first anniversary, Fulton County touted the success of Springdale Place, the county’s badly needed shelter for homeless women and their children.

Springdale Place, one of the few shelters in metro Atlanta that provide a full range of services to such vulnerable families, had at that point enabled “180 homeless mothers with children to begin building new lives with stable employment and permanent housing in their futures,” a press release stated.

But now, just two years after opening Springdale, Fulton is quietly shuttering it and the 150-bed emergency shelter at its other homeless facility, Jefferson Place, which has served men for two decades. The two have stopped taking new clients and will close in the next few months. A 50-bed transitional center at Jefferson will remain open.

Outside Jefferson Place last week, some residents did not know the shelter was being phased out.

“They’re going to close this place? Wow!” said a surprised Althaues Maximillen. “That can’t do this. This place is really needed. It helped me in getting my life back.”

Maximillen said he was an unemployed highway construction worker and was there almost a year. “I got my self-esteem back. They won’t let you drop your spirit.”

The loss of Springdale is a “huge blow” to women with children who have no other place to go and are harder to place, said Bruce Deel, a minister who runs such a shelter, the City of Refuge, in northwest Atlanta.

The City of Refuge houses 240 women and children and can expand to 320 in the winter. Springdale can take in another 150 women and children.

“That leaves a big hole in the system,” Deel said.

Part of the reason for the closing is a political tug-of-war between Fulton County and Atlanta for funding and control of social-service programs. But part of it is plain old budget cutting: the shelters are getting the ax because of a $1.8 million human-services funding cut.

“These two governments are playing political football,” said Jack Hardin, a lawyer who has volunteered for 25 years to help Atlanta’s homeless and chairs Gateway Center, the city’s official provider of homeless services.

Hardin said he realizes public officials must make tough financial decisions. But, he added, the most needy — and those with the least clout — usually suffer the brunt of such cuts.

“This is largely a voiceless mass of people,” Hardin said. “It’s not a politically active group.”

‘The casualty is the homeless people’

The shelters’ closing comes after the collapse last year of the Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative, a longstanding arrangement between Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb County to seek funding and provide care for the homeless.

The pact disintegrated in 2o13 when DeKalb “decided to break away from the Tri-J” and form its own organization, according to a detailed statement compiled by Atlanta officials responding to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. DeKalb officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Mayor Kasim Reed then decided to form a care organization and asked Fulton officials to join, Atlanta officials said, but “they respectfully declined.”

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, in an interview, said the Tri-J’s dissolution was “unfortunate.”

“We were invited but we were to be a minor partner,” he said. “We felt we’d be at a disadvantageous position.

“Unfortunately, the train went out of the station and we couldn’t undo what had been done,” he said. “The casualty is the homeless people. And the beds supported by the government will be less.”

10-year solution is now 11 years old

Ironically, collaboration was a key recommendation of a 2003 task force report requested by then-Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

“We strongly believe the most effective solution to homelessness in the metropolitan area will come from coordination, planning and resources that can be provided by a regional authority,” the committee concluded.

The study was named “Blueprint to End Homelessness in Atlanta in Ten Years.”

Atlanta officials last week said that, under new federal rules, grant proposals to build permanent housing get priority over transitional housing or social services.

Also, grant funds sought for Jefferson Place this year had to come through the city of Atlanta’s application, because the shelter is within the city’s limits.

Atlanta officials rated funding for Jefferson Place as a lower priority in their grant proposal because, they believed, federal officials would fund permanent housing but not homeless support services.

City officials also noted they had nothing to do with Springdale Place being closed.

‘This is like an oasis in the desert’

Eaves said the decision to close the shelters was a combination of losing the grants and a need to balance the county’s budget.

“There were a lot of competing priorities and dwindling resources,” said Eaves, pointing out criminal justice, libraries and senior services. “One of the casualties of the budget cuts was Jefferson Place and Springdale.”

A recent report compiled by Atlanta called “Unsheltered No More,” noted that the homeless population has remained “stagnant …despite significant public and private investments and efforts.” The total has usually hovered near 7,000 since 2003, the report noted. It added 35 percent are “unsheltered,” a high proportion compared to other cities.

Reed, in the report, noted that permanent housing — and regional coordination — is vital to changing that trend.

Outside Jefferson Place, resident Larry Armour, 54, was getting dropped off by a family member who had just reacquainted him with his baby granddaughter. Armour had bottomed out with a brew of cocaine and alcohol and slept under bridges. He’s been there for five months in rehab therapy.

“This place saved my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t have lasted if I stayed out there. I hate to see it closing.

“A lot of people have nowhere to go. This is like an oasis in the desert.”

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