People tend to root for the underdog, the little guy sticking it to the Man, the David facing down a well-armed Goliath. For many, that image embodied the appeal of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, the group led by the grandmotherly Anita Beaty that had operated the giant shelter at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets for the past 14 years.
Beaty has become a hero to many for her vocal advocacy for the downtrodden and her readiness to accuse the powers that be of trying to sweep the homeless under the rug. That kind of fighting spirit is necessary in a great activist. But it makes for a lousy social-service provider.
Beaty has willfully burned bridges across this city, alienating city officials, businesses, potential donors, surrounding neighborhoods, and, puzzlingly, other homeless service providers. The Task Force has sued City Hall and Emory University; bad-mouthed the United Way; accused business leaders of racism; and blamed everyone but itself for its current troubles.
Last week, after overseeing the Task Force's lawsuit fighting eviction for more than a year and a half, a Superior Court judge ordered Beaty and her team to leave the property so the United Way can take over management of the shelter. In his exasperated comments over the course of the three-hour hearing, the judge made clear he was fed up with Beaty's unwillingness to compromise, her appetite for publicity, and her penchant for self-righteously impugning the motives of anyone who disagrees with her.
The judge called his decision to kick out the Task Force a "win-win for everyone," and it's hard to disagree. The city and Georgia Power will now be able to collect on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of unpaid utility bills. The property owners will now be free to make needed repairs and upgrades to the building. Nearby residents will likely see a drop in petty crime. And, most importantly, the 500 or so men staying at Peachtree-Pine will finally be served by a well-organized and effective social-service agency.
Of course, it never would've come to this if Beaty had done a decent job managing the shelter. Instead, her no-questions-asked approach to sheltering the homeless — many of whom are mentally ill or addicted to drugs — helped foster a derelict subclass that believed itself dependent on her for survival. In the process, the surrounding area was turned into a no-man's land of open drug use, filthy bedrolls, and wasted lives.
For a stark contrast, visit the Atlanta Mission's large men's shelter across the street from the Georgia Aquarium or its women's shelter on Howell Mill Road a block from Octane Coffee. Didn't know those facilities were there? That's my point.
The Task Force is expected to appeal the judge's decision, a move that could further delay its ouster. But it would be a victory for all concerned if Beaty put the good of the homeless — and the rest of the city — first and went away quietly.