Atlanta’s homeless continue to be in the news during a week in which the Atlanta City Council approved an anti-panhandling ordinance that Mayor Kasim Reed said represented the right balance between tough enforcement and offering humane services to those who need it including the homeless.
And as Creative Loafing’s Thomas Wheatley wrote this week, Mayor Reed has made reducing the City’s homelessness a top priority.
It is estimated that 21,000 people are homeless in Georgia, and lack not only housing, but also access to health and wellness programs and support that can help them improve their lives.
On Thursday, ARAMARK, the global professional services company, expanded its partnership with the westside’s Atlanta Mission, which provides emergency shelter and other support to more than 950 men, women and children each day. ARAMARK employee volunteers created an ARAMARK Building Community (ABC) Opportunity Zone focused on health and wellness education and awareness at The Shepherd’s Inn, an Atlanta Mission facility located next to Centennial Olympic Park that serves as many as 425 homeless men every day.
As part of the ABC Opportunity Zone, volunteers transformed an under-used empty lot at The Shepherd’s Inn into a dedicated recreation and fitness area. Volunteers also revitalized the community garden that ARAMARK volunteers helped establish last year, which offers a place for residents to grow fruit and vegetables.
Throughout the year, ARAMARK dietitians and culinary professionals will host ongoing health and nutrition information and education seminars to provide easy and tasty ways staff and residents can use products from the garden and learn nutrition strategies to improve overall nutrition and health.
Exercise and nutrition are critical components of well-being and “healthy independence,” Jim Reese, president and CEO of Atlanta Mission, said in a press release. For many years, a major goal for Shepherd’s Inn was the creation of a fitness and recreation space for residents but the facility lacked the resources for the project, he said.
The new ABC Opportunity Zone, which will include chin-up and push-up bars, sit-up benches and a new half-court basketball area, will help residents achieve “the physical aspect to the life transformation that occurs here,” Reese said.
Meanwhile, residents in the Central Atlanta Neighbors/Fourth Ward West Neighborhood have started a Change.org petition imploring Mayor Reed to resolve the homelessness issue in and around Renaissance Park, which is located just south of Midtown and a couple of blocks from the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter.
The petition, which has almost 550 signatures, reads:
"The quality of life for the residents in the community around the area of Renaissance Park has been severely compromised and has deteriorated due to the homeless situation in the area. Residents who walk their dogs and pick up litter in and around the park are experiencing rude behavior (bordering on threatening) and there is concern it will become confrontational and abusive. Drug usage and dealing, prostitution, aggressive panhandling, excessive littering, urban camping and public urination and defecation are a daily occurrence in the neighborhood of the park creating public safety and health issues.
Please help us bring this problem to the attention of City Hall as we encourage efforts to keep this park from becoming a haven for undesirable behavior and occupation. This petition is in support of proper and welcoming use of Renaissance Park and all other parks in the area."
One person who signed it wrote:
"Homelessness has become one of the most visible and alarming issues in Atlanta. I have only lived here 5 years, but I have watched Peachtree & Pine essentially kill any and all surrounding business. Now the overflow of homeless individuals are making our parks (also Mayor's Park at Peachtree and Ralph McGill) dangerous. I truly hope something can be done."
"This park has become a haven for the homeless and it is threatening at times. But, as community members we have to come up with ways to work with local government to assist them with the bigger picture of addressing the problem of homelessness. Also, we have to start thinking of non-government solutions. Like how to assist the Pine Street Shelter to manage the homeless traffic so that it doesn't overflow into the streets and public parks."
While someone else commented:
"I have personally been solicited for drugs and a group once followed me from Renaissance Park near to Publix; I feared greatly for my safety and had it been a different hour or cars not nearby I truly feel I would have been robbed. I am a neighbor in this area and feel I cannot walk near the Civic Center, let alone the park due to the sprawling homeless residents of the Spring St facility. I avoid my own backyard out of fear, Mr. Reed, I hope you feel this situation is as ridiculous and worthy of attention as my neighbors and I do."