Fulton, Atlanta may reopen homeless shelter

Fulton County and the City of Atlanta are negotiating a deal that could reopen the Jefferson Place homeless shelter.

The Atlanta shelter, which served about 150 homeless men, closed last year amid county budget cuts and political wrangling between the city and county. Recently, County Commission Chairman John Eaves and Mayor Kasim Reed began talks about the facility resuming operations.

Eaves said he and Reed also have discussed resurrecting a broader partnership between their governments to address homelessness.

The negotiations come as Reed has announced plans to use eminent domain to shutter the nonprofit Peachtree-Pine shelter, citing concerns about tuberculosis at the center. Anita Beaty, head of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless — the nonprofit that operates the shelter — said the facility is in compliance with health protocols and pledged to fight any effort to close it.

Reed said city and county leaders aren’t re-opening Jefferson Place in order to house residents displaced by the potential closure of Peachtree-Pine.

“These steps are part of a broader effort, but none of this will succeed as long as we continue to ignore the elephant in the room, which happens to be Peachtree-Pine,” said Reed, who expressed a desire on Wednesday to work with Beaty on opening a new shelter elsewhere.

“We have a broader placement strategy that will include expanded housing choices,” he said.

Eaves said the county’s interest in re-opening Jefferson Place isn’t connected to Peachtree-Pine. Fulton entered into a memorandum of understanding in June with four shelters, including Peachtree-Pine, that outlines tuberculosis testing and control measures. Peachtree-Pine is in compliance, he noted.

The shelter’s closure “is their thing,” Eaves said of Atlanta. “I can’t speak to what the other agenda or motive may be from the city, but I do know the county certainly has been a willing partner in terms of working with the city to address homelessness.”

Speaking to members of the Commerce Club on Tuesday, the mayor surprised a few in the room by praising Fulton County’s collaboration.

“John Eaves and I have had a challenged relationship, but he’s been a terrific partner as we’ve worked to expand our (homelessness) capabilities,” he said.

Eaves later responded on Twitter by saying he’s “looking forward to continued collaborations” on those issues.

The talk of cooperation is a dramatic shift from a year ago, when a dispute between the governments contributed to the closing of the Jefferson Place shelter. Talks broke down over the balance of power on the board that would oversee the joint homeless initiative.

At the same time, Fulton County cut $1.8 million in funding for homeless programs, citing a budget shortfall. That led to the shuttering of the Jefferson Place emergency shelter, though a 50-bed transitional center remains open.

Another partnership that was formed to address the issue of homelessness, involving Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, collapsed in 2013.

Eaves said Wednesday that he and Reed are in talks to resurrect a formal partnership between the city and county in order to compete for federal funding.

Fulton County still owns Jefferson Place and would lease it to Invest Atlanta, the city’s development authority, if a deal is struck. The leaders haven’t said how soon that could happen.

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