Judge orders Midtown homeless shelter handed over to United Way

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall on Friday ordered the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless to hand over control of its controversial Midtown shelter to the United Way this month. Schwall also ordered the United Way to handle operation until the 600-men shelter closes in six months.

Schwall said he had protected the task force from eviction for nearly two years by stopping the new owner from removing the occupants of the building at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets.

The judge made it clear that politics of the task force's founders, Anita and Jim Beaty, made him doubt their sincerity. Anita Beaty, the executive director of the task force, allowed Occupy Atlanta to meet at the shelter, which the judge called a "political statement." He also complained the Beatys were paid a total of $100,000 from a separate company for their work for the homeless -- implying that was their motivation.

“You got the United Way that has a lot of resources coming into court and saying ‘We will take care of them,'" Schwall said. “If your clients are really interested in the homeless rather than Occupy Atlanta and their $50,000 salaries" they will hand over the shelter to the United Way.

He gave the Beatys until noon on Feb. 15 to vacate the property and ordered the shelter closed by Aug. 31. Schwall said he planned to hold the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta accountable to find housing for all of the men.

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"I want to make sure that justice was served and the homeless are taken care of," Schwall said.

Steve Hall, the lawyer for the task force, pleaded with Schwall to let him share evidence that the United Way didn't have the resources to care for the 600 men he said were now staying in the 435-bed shelter, as well as the new men coming into the overflow shelter. Hall said the judge's assertion that the salaries were the Beatys' motivation was misplaced, noting a developer had bought off the loans on the 100,000-square-foot building.

Schwall said he was not convinced the Beatys had the best interest of the homeless in mind since they were battling in court with many of the major players in the city including Emory University and Emory Healthcare, which owns a Midtown hospital. The task force is also suing Manny Fialkow, the Norcross developer who purchased the defaulted-on loans for the building for $900,000, Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown business association which has battled with the Beatys and the shelter for years, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, and other entities in Fulton County Superior Court.

"What was the purpose of suing Emory University and antagonizing a huge pot of money," Schwall, an Emory law school grad, said. "It tells me it is more about power, money, control, revenge and anger than it is about the homeless."

Beaty has contended her overflow shelter helps men who cannot get help from other shelters. Her critics say that her shelter only warehouses men without assisting them with finding permanent housing, which Hall called an absolute lie. His lawsuit for the task force says the Central Atlanta Progress, along with Emory University and the City of Atlanta conspired to dry up the task force’s public grants and private funding with the goal of closing the shelter.

"These people assassinated us," Hall said.

Protip Biswas, who runs the homeless initiatives for the United Way, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a separate interview that the United Way's Streets to Homes program possibly could find 25 transitional beds a week for the men and acknowledged that most shelter beds would already be filled, which would mean occupying floor space.

“We know we can do small manageable numbers of 20 to 25, but if there are more than that it will have to be a drastic solutions of throwing mats on the floor," said Biswas, vice president for the United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness.

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