July 14, 2021
From It's Going Down
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Report from the Atlanta Homeless Union about a successful campaign to secure housing after a police sweep evicted an encampment to make way for the production of  a show.

On Saturday July 10, unhoused members of the ATL Homeless Union were notified that our encampment on Martin Luther King Jr Dr SE near the Georgia State Capitol would be forcibly removed on the following Monday for the production of a show, DMZ, by Backlight Productions.

After getting into contact with the studio, we were notified by the show’s location manager, Kellie Morrison, that the show DID NOT request for the city to displace us and that they were willing to work with us to come up with a solution that centered our needs.

On Monday, July 12 around 12 p.m., however, the Atlanta Police Department forcibly removed us and took our shelters and some of our belongings. Then, like they always do, they said that camping on the sidewalks is illegal. They sent social workers from the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District to offer to take us into shelters. This is a common and absolutely unacceptable practice in Atlanta. Instead of providing real housing solutions, they want to hide us. They send the police to take our belongings, then act like heroes when they force us to choose between staying outside with nothing or going into a shelter.

This time, some of us reluctantly decided to go because THEY STOLE OUR TENTS. Most of us, however, decided to not accept a shelter because shelters are dehumanizing and take away our freedom.

We are people. People without homes are people. And we shouldn’t have to give up our freedom, autonomy, and humanity to have a roof over our heads. Thankfully, this is a truth that Backlight Productions seems to understand.

Shortly after the police displaced us, Backlight Productions began working directly with one of our organizers and some allies from our affiliate group of housed comrades, Sol Underground. We requested that the production company treat us like any group of housed people that their production may impact.

We worked alongside the location managers of the production company to secure some basic needs:

  • 6 nights in a hotel for 40 people who were displaced

  • MARTA Cards so members can still get from the hotel to work or tend to their business

  • Replacement tents

  • Catered food delivered to the hotel on the three nights they are filming (because most of our food is brought to us downtown throughout the week).

Backlight Productions did what the city has yet to do: talk directly to us, hear our wants and needs, and help meet those needs without reservation. We know what is best for us! This partnership is a big step in the right direction. We hope this can be a model showing that everyone should treat us with the same dignity and autonomy that you would any other resident of a neighborhood that you are coming into as a guest.

We also hope this is an inspiration to unhoused people across the country to show the power we have when we organize and work together. The ATL Homeless Union organized so we can collectively take action and collectively bargain for what we need. The city did not have power over us in this situation because we were organized. We will continue building political power among the unhoused residents of our city until our ultimate demands are met and homelessness is eradicated in Atlanta:

  • We demand homes. With the millions of dollars we spend on shelters and services, we can house every unhoused person in the city. The city should convert vacant and city-owned properties into permanent homes for those who are unhoused. We demand that the city invest pandemic relief funds in long-term public housing solutions. Public housing is important because it will not allow the wealthy to maintain power and control over our circumstances like public/private partnerships and nonprofits do.

  • We demand healthcare. We need primary care access so that we don’t have to go to the emergency room every single time we need basic healthcare. Preventive care saves lives and taxpayer money. All unhoused people should have access to regular preventive medical care.

  • We demand water. The city controls the Water Department. Especially during this pandemic, we need water to stay sanitary. The city should guarantee showers, bathrooms, and handwashing stations for unhoused people—not through shelters, but through public goods. The city must stop locking public bathrooms in the evenings.

  • We demand a seat. The City is busy talking to everyone except us about what we need. We deserve a seat at the table. We need to be consulted about the policies that will impact our lives. The City should follow our leadership. If the city does not give us a meaningful seat at the table, we will build our own table.

If the City of Atlanta is serious about addressing homelessness, this is the bare minimum it will do. If the City is not serious about ending homelessness, the powers that be will continue doing what they’re doing: money to hotels, warming centers, shelters, public/private partnerships, and police sweeps. Someone benefits from those incremental proposals. And it’s not us.

We tired. We’re not gonna go for it anymore. We are here and we are here to stay. We got a voice, and we will continue to use it.

ATL HOMELESS UNION

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Source: Itsgoingdown.org