Monday, November 21, 2011

Gun Shots and Refuge From The Cold On The Capitol Steps

It was Sunday November 13th when Someone involved with Occupy Atlanta got a tip from a local news reporter that Capitol police were planning on evicting a group of homeless people who had been occupying a ledge within eye shot of the Georgia Capitol and City Hall. From what we have gathered complaints from the Government employees had brought on the eviction threats.

They sleep there because of the safety that comes being nestled between multiple government buildings, they sleep there because air ducts below the ledge release warm exhaust produced from surrounding buildings, they sleep there because several near by churches provide direct services.

Frankly, the homeless should be evicted from the ledge and put into one of the 50,000 empty units in the city. Sadly it appears that Atlanta continues act like the city that's to busy to care, to careless to worry about where these folks would be evicted to, to concerned with the image of poverty, and not concerned about dealing with poverty and homelessness.

Occupy Atlanta held a press conference on Sunday November 12th calling on the city and the state not to evict folks on the ledge until they found adequate homes for them to occupy. Occupy Atlanta also decided to set up tents and stay with folks on the ledge until the threat of eviction died down.

I was one of many occupiers that volunteered to stay on the ledge, and I must say it was a surreal experience for me. From the ledge on Central Ave between Mitchell St and Martin Luther King blvd you can see the gold dome of the Georgia capitol and Atlanta's city hall.

During the day the surrounding blocks are where most of the city and state business is done. Atlanta has the greatest wealth inequity of any metropolitan area in the country, and no block in the city exemplifies this economic reality more than this block.

When the power brokers of the city and state go home the shelterless come back to the ledge each night. I spent three nights on the ledge, talking with folks, hearing their stories, taking in what it means to live on the ledge. I found most of the people staying on the ledge to be extremely articulate and friendly. Many offered to help us set up tents each night and break down camp. I talked with a half dozen folks that were homeless as a result of losing a job over the summer and having no financial safety net. Many clean up at a local church and job hunt all day, which isn't the easiest thing to do these days.

While many chose the ledge to stay at because it's safer then Atlanta's underpasses, it's by no means a super safe area at night. On our first night several cars drove by our encampment and fired four shots from a hand gun into the air. While some of the folks that had been on the ledge for months were a little jumpy after the shots where fired, most barely flinched. For them, it's a pretty common experience, an experience most of us never get used to.

For now it seems that the eviction of the ledge had been put off, it was likely a combination of media attention and local churches that complained to the city and state once they caught wind of law enforcement's plan to evict.

Is this a victory for Occupy Atlanta? We know that law enforcement had a plan to evict, that plan didn't happen, which is good. The real victory will be the day that the 36,000 shelterless people in Atlanta have housing.

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee

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