Marshall Rancifer, champion of Atlanta’s homeless, dies at 66

Marshall Rancifer worked tirelessly for the last 25 years helping Atlanta’s homeless. He knew their plight. He had lived it himself.

Rancifer rebounded from a downward spiral that began with drug addiction. It dashed his dream of a career in law enforcement and left him on the streets for several years.

He credited his turnaround to God.

“He made a compact before God that, if you help me get out of this, I will dedicate myself to helping others in this situation,” said Ross Hegtvedt, a close friend and Carter Center employee. “And that’s what he did.”

Marshall Rancifer, a widely known and loved advocate for the homeless and exploited, died peacefully in his sleep Saturday in hospice care. He was 66.

He recently sought treatment for severe headaches, which revealed a brain aneurysm. His sister, Janna Myrick of Canton, said he had two strokes during and after surgery.

A service is planned for Monday, Sept. 19, at 11 a.m, with public visitation at 10 a.m. at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. It’s the place he had said he found the spiritual guidance, love, and kindness that motivated him to change.

Earlier, Rancifer had attended Georgia Tech for a year and spent three years in technical school with the goal of a job in law enforcement that would allow him to fly airplanes and helicopters, a passion he shared with his brother Rodney, a DeKalb police officer who flew a chopper for part of his career.

“That was the love of his life,” Myrick said. “All he cared about was flying.”

Rancifer applied for a job with the Atlanta Police Department. But he failed a polygraph when asked if he’d used drugs in the past year.

Myrick said Marshall, known as Randy by family, never recovered from their mother’s suicide and had fallen into drug use. It grew worse.

“We tried helping him and helping, and they finally told us we had to let him hit bottom,” she said.

When he got off drugs and dedicated himself to living to serve others, he went all out.

“He didn’t make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Myrick said. “He would make gourmet meals and be giving them out on the street. He’d send us pictures.”

Credit: courtesy of family

Credit: courtesy of family

But his family didn’t know the magnitude and impact of his life until people visited him in hospice, Myrick said.

“I heard some people say that seeing him walking reminded them of Jesus. Just like him, he didn’t turn a soul away,” she said.

Former Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said Racifer was “a special, special person.”

“He saved many lives by getting people off the streets,” she said.

“He often came to City Hall and spoke in front of committees, particularly community development, complaining, fussing, and taking people to task about the care, or lack thereof in his estimation, of the unsheltered population in the city,” she said.

He started and ran the Justice for All Coalition.

Later, as council president, Moore did some community outreach with him.

“That’s when I really got to know him and got a chance to see what he did and why he did it,” she said.

He took her to places where she never knew homeless encampments existed.

“People knew him. They looked for him ,” she said “They saw his car coming, and they knew there’d be pizza or something to eat, maybe some clothes. He just cared for any- and everybody.”

Mona Bennett, with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, worked alongside Rancifer for the past 15 years.

“He had his own organization, but even before that, he did what he could to help people just on his own out of his own pocket — on his own time on his own dime,” she said.

His friends expressed concern that Racifer, in caring so much for others, had neglected himself.

“I hope those who choose to continue Marshall’s work in the spirit of Marshall Rancifer take care of themselves as they take care of others,” Bennett said.

Rancifer was married twice and divorced twice and had three children, 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, his sister said.

In 2019, Rancifer said he was helping thousands of homeless men, women and children with meals, hygiene kits, overdose medication, permanent housing and drug treatment. He estimated then that he had helped 2,100 homeless people to get off the streets.

Hegtvedt said Rancifer likely influenced thousands more to help the homeless and needy in metro Atlanta because of the good they saw in him.

“He is a saint,” he said.