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Cities Around Country Move Away From Large Homeless Shelters

One of Atlanta's largest homeless shelters, Peachtree-Pine, is set to close in August. It's the result of a settlement between Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, which runs the shelter, and the downtown development group Central Atlanta Progress.
One of Atlanta's largest homeless shelters, Peachtree-Pine, is set to close in August. It's the result of a settlement between Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, which runs the shelter, and the downtown development group Central Atlanta Progress.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

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With the closing of Peachtree-Pine, Atlanta will lose one of its largest homeless shelters. And it will put the city in line with a national trend.

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Across the country, localities are rethinking policies that have led to concentrations of people who are homeless.

Those policies generally were based on nimbyism, according to Mary Cunningham, co-director of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

She said cities have put services for the homeless in places where they could cater to a lot of people and not face community opposition.

“Shelters are often located in sort of downtown areas where not a lot of people live,” she said, “and not in places like the suburbs or in neighborhoods where people are residing.”

But Cunningham said that’s changing now that cities are starting to look different.

“There is this pull back to the cities,” she said. “More and more people want to live downtown and want to live close to their workspaces.”

And as people continue to move back into urban cores, those large homeless shelters are increasingly close to residences.

So Cunningham said some cities are now considering ways to disperse the homeless population into neighborhoods.

Leaders in Washington, D.C., for example, are looking to replace D.C. General, a large facility for families, with a series of smaller, less disruptive shelters.

Those, however, have been a hard sell.

“There is still a lot of resistance to siting those smaller shelters across cities,” Cunningham said.

But that is also how Atlanta hopes to care for the homeless going forward, said Jack Hardin, co-chair of the United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness.

He said larger shelters may have been started out of compassion, but they’re not the best way to meet people’s needs.

“It just has proved to be more effective if it’s smaller, more intimate and a more personalized setting,” Hardin said.

Together, the city and United Way are pursuing $50 million for homeless services. Hardin said that potentially could fund two to three smaller shelters.

Plans are already underway to retrofit Jefferson Place, a Fulton County-owned facility on Atlanta’s Westside, for that purpose.

County Chairman John Eaves said in a statement Tuesday he expects the commission to consider a progress report on Jefferson Place at its July 19 meeting.

Last fall, a proposal to put a shelter in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood drew protests from the surrounding community.