Last week I read a teaser from Atlanta Magazine on the Mayor’s use of eminent domain to address the hot mess that is Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter. This has been an on-going challenge within the City of Atlanta for years and I commend the Mayor for attempting to address it. I look forward to the full article and better understanding the motives and plans regarding this decision. At first blush though, this appears to be a page out of the Campbell-Franklin playbook: out of sight, out of mind for the city’s homeless.
I have always admired Mayor Reed’s pragmatism in politics. He works across the aisle to move policies that are embraced by both sides. I wish more policy makers were like him- effective, solution oriented, and innovative. His partnership with Governor Deal has been the lynchpin in getting the Savannah Harbor deepened, opening up trade for the entire state.
Yet the use of eminent domain in this case, to build a police and fire station seems not only overblown, but out of touch. As a rule, I have a real problem with eminent domain. I see it as an over reach of the government where the cards are stacked against the private property owner. While I recognize it has its place in the toolbox of policy, I fear it is far overused already.
Additionally, while as a resident I would certainly value the presence of more police and fire fighters in the area, the plan to disperse the shelter visitors around the city into smaller groups, smacks of former mayors’ prior move to push the poor and panhandling into Clayton County. In my humble opinion, it is less of a solution, and more of a stop gap approach to sweep the city’s complex challenges under the rug.
The Mayor has asserted that citizens of Atlanta want this shelter gone. Sort of. I want the litter, loitering, drug use and sex in the public park gone- I want the people who need treatment and therapy to receive it.
The reality is that homelessness is complex. In recognizing that, the solution to address this population must also be. This broad brush stroke approach probably wins the Mayor some points in some camps, but most recognize this is not actually a solution; this is merely kicking the can.
My questions that I hope will be fleshed out by Atlanta Magazine are this:
- What is the cost of moving these individuals and the restructuring (and presumably demolition and rebuilding) of the site vs. keeping them here and addressing the issues within the building?
- A large part of the homeless population suffers from untreated mental illness and addiction. What data do we have that the centers to which the homeless will be moved will have adequate and necessary services so that they will not simply fall further through the cracks?
- How can we ensure that the challenges (litter, drug paraphernalia, loitering) that surround Peachtree-Pine will not just reestablish themselves in a new location?
- What is the footprint of the service area for the police and fire station as proposed?
- What will have to be sacrificed in the city budget to implement the Mayor’s plan?
The city is ever evolving, and thankfully, my Mayor is trying to adjust policies to ensure safety and a quick response to our residents and businesses. Yet at what cost? How much of the Mayor’s integrity will be sacrificed on the altar of expediency for the executive decision for eminent domain? What pros and cons does the business community see in a city council that cannot resolve its differences with the Mayor? Does the use of eminent domain seem like an inviting environment for business in our fair city? And most importantly, what will be the trade-off of quality of life for a population that has so little of it even now?