Last week, Fulton County jurors returned a guilty verdict against a panhandler who four years ago shot and killed a Midtown visitor in a gas station parking lot located near Spring and 14th streets.
Such a conviction would appear to not have made much of an impression on Anita Beaty, executive director of the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, who thinks the city of Atlanta’s most recent attempt to address aggressive panhandling is turning those less fortunate and who need assistance into criminals.
Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond, chair of the public safety-legal administration committee, recently proposed an ordinance to better deal with aggressive panhandlers, including a mandatory six-month jail sentence following a third conviction.
The current law calls for a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment following a third conviction. The new legislation is intended to assist Atlanta’s tourism, especially in the downtown area.
But as last week’s murder conviction shows, Midtown has its share of aggressive panhandlers, too. At a Thursday public safety committee work session to discuss Bond’s ordinance, Beaty continued her stance that the law is not needed and discriminatory.
“We cannot deal with poverty, mental illness and addiction with criminalizing ordinances,” Beaty said as reported today by the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
As many Midtown residents and workers know, Beaty’s Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless operates the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter located across the street from Emory University Hospital Midtown. Last fall, the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance wrote on its website, "From the very start Peachtree-Pine has generated tremendous problems for the surrounding community.”
Over the years, surrounding businesses have reported that staff and patrons have been accosted by men lingering around the shelter.
The shelter has struggled for years to stay open, in part because it doesn't raise enough money to cover the cost of operations. The shelter owes the city of Atlanta several hundred thousands of dollars for water and sewer service. Continued efforts to remove the Task Force, and relocate the men, remains tied up in courts. A Task Force board member told Patch last week that the next court date is in October.
With regards to the proposed new panhandling ordinance, earlier this month Beaty told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"A mandatory sentence of six months for poorly defined behavior in a city that refuses to address or even acknowledge its housing and social service needs, where housing is destroyed, public transportation systematically removed from “poor” neighborhoods and developers reign is deeply destructive."
According to Bond, since council members didn’t receive the ordinance until Thursday, another committee meeting will need to be conducted before a decision can be made as to whether to send it to the full council.
Do you think Midtown has a panhandling problem and if so, is tougher legislation needed for this portion of the city?