In Defense of Our Homeless Neighbors
As Inman Park resident, I want to welcome our homeless brothers and sisters, and stand in opposition to an article published in the Inman Park Advocator last month. The individuals referred to as “Urban Campers” in the article are our neighbors. They should be welcomed and treated with respect and dignity, rather than labeled with inaccurate, degrading stereotypes while calling for their forcible removal.1 Our neighborhood would not be the vibrant, progressive space that it is without all of our residents.
By definition, a homeless person “has no private property and therefore no choice but to perform tasks necessary to life [in a public space].” Encouraging the city council to revise the 1996 Urban Camping Ordinance to begin persecuting these behaviors encroaches on the humanity of an already vulnerable population. The ordinance, which made “the ‘improper use of public spaces,’ [illegal] including erecting tents or other temporary structures or objects providing shelter; sleeping in a single place for more than one hour at a time; cooking or preparing meals; or other similar activities,” was overturned as unconstitutional in 1997 in a class action lawsuit lead by the ACLU.
During its short span, Urban Camping Ordinance resulted in the arrest of a college student and an employed homeless person, among countless others, pushing them deeper into homelessness rather than out of it.3 In a recent survey, almost every homeless youth in Atlanta, when asked about their future, had goals, dreams, and in many cases, specific plans in place to achieve them.4 Let’s not revert back to damaging legislation that so deeply offends human dignity and pushes youth into harmful situations.
Many of the homeless people in the Inman Park/Little 5 Points neighborhoods are youth. In 2015, the Atlanta Youth Count and Needs Assessment counted and surveyed the homeless youth in metro-Atlanta, and found that homeless youth are both extremely vulnerable and have distinct needs from homeless adults.4 Homeless youth are less likely to stay in shelters and transient housing designed for adult homeless, “because they are more likely to be victimized by the chronically homeless.” 5Almost 1 in 5 youth reported being victims of sexual abuse, assault, or trafficking while being homeless within the last year.4 31% percent reported having been physically assaulted.4 Pushing homeless youth into a non-central location risks separating them from support systems and decreasing visibility, making it harder – if not impossible – to avoid physical harm. Inman Park is central and there is a large police precinct, making it an ideal residence for homeless youth to avoid irreparable harm and find sources of support.
The City of Atlanta has had a complex relationship with its homeless population. Piedmont Park has benches with internal arm rests, designed to prevent sleeping.6 Most recently, the city has been taking steps to close a homeless shelter in central Atlanta, which could leave up to 1000 people unsheltered on a given night without providing a clear path forward for an alternative.7 In a step in the right direction, the City of Atlanta and the United Way of Greater Atlanta launched a 50$ million initiative to reduce homelessness at the beginning of February.8 We can help by advocating for the development/expansion of youth-specific services, support, and affordable housing programs for those who are, or are at risk of becoming, homeless.
As a neighborhood, we need to start thinking about homelessness as a symptom. The top three reasons Atlanta youth become homeless are lack of job security, financial security, and family violence.3 Many homeless youth maintain a social network for some time, despite their precarious situation, which is evidenced by 58% reporting that they will stay overnight with people they know in the absence of an adequate place to stay.3 This indicates that homelessness is often an affordability issue, especially within Atlanta youth. To stop it, we need to do our part as a neighborhood by insuring affordable housing requirements for all new development in Inman Park and developing programs to insure that in light of unchecked increases in housing costs, our neighbors are not left on the street.
Please contact me for more information on how to constructively assist vulnerable youth in our neighborhood. Hannahk.firstname.lastname@example.org
“Homeless Urban Campers” by Susan Tabor. Inman Park Advocator. February 2017. http://www.inmanpark.org/assets/Advocator/2017/inmanpark_ipn_02-17_web.pdf
“An Analysis of Atlanta's Ordinance Prohibiting Urban Camping: Passage and Early Implementation” by Ellie Hopkins and Larry Nackerud. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless. 1999
“Cities use ‘urban camping’ to keep homeless off local streets” by Ellen Eldridge. Reporter Newspapers. December 28, 2014.
4Atlanta Homeless Youth Count and Needs Assessment. Eric R. Wright et al. May 2016. http://atlantayouthcount.weebly.com/uploads/7/9/0/5/79053356/aycna_final_report_may_2016_final.pdf
5 “Making the invisible visible: Atlanta’s homeless youth have been underrepresented but Geortp://georgiastatesignal.com/making-the-invisible-visible-atlantas-homeless-youth-have-been-underrepresented-but-georgia-state-students-sought-to-correct-that/
6 “The politics of park benches” by Robert Rosenberger. Creative Loafing. 2015 http://www.clatl.com/news/article/13081526/the-politics-of-park-benches
7 ”City Council gives Atlanta go-ahead to seek Peachtree-Pine purchase” by Leon Stafford. AJC. 2016. http://www.myajc.com/news/local-govt--politics/city-council-gives-atlanta-ahead-seek-peachtree-pine-purchase/wwnnPTb4PhjGywUY2SJ9AL/
8 “United Way and city of Atlanta to invest $50 million to fight homelessness”
by Maria Saporta. 2017. SaportaReport. http://saportareport.com/united-way-city-atlanta-invest-50-million-fight-homelessness/