ATLANTA — Around 8:15 a.m. on Thurs., Aug. 26, around six Atlanta Police Department squad cars gathered outside of the Central Presbyterian Church located in downtown Atlanta on the corner of Washington Street and Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive. They arrived to conduct a tent removal and displacement of houseless people in the area; instead, they arrived to find a group of around 50 people gathered enjoying a community breakfast along with various media outlets documenting the event, which was organized by the newly-formed Atlanta Homeless Union (AHU).
Earlier this week, Central Presbyterian Church posted a sign to alert members of the houseless community that the City of Atlanta would be conducting a “tent removal” in the area. These forced tent removals, otherwise known as “police sweeps,” are known to be violent and harmful to houseless constituents in the city who regularly report incidents of their belongings being removed without their consent or any meaningful solutions to provide greater resources. APD were joined by the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID), which is a function of the Atlanta Committee for Progress — a CEO-only group that was formed in order to hide homelessness in the city in preparation for the 1996 Olympics.
Prior to the police’s arrival, the AHU, which formed earlier this year and earned vast media attention following the violent mass arrests outside of City Hall in July, planned a community “Breakfast Club,” in which community members were invited to gather outside the church to cook and share a meal. According to Mainline’s sources on the ground, around 25 housed constituents and allies of the AHU and 25-30 unhoused people affiliated with AHU came together outside the church to host the breakfast club. Sources on the ground tell us that after a two-hour stand-off, the police and Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID) reportedly left without removing any tents or displacing any individuals from the area.
In a press release sent out by AHU earlier this week announcing the event, union members explain, “[Tent removals and the city’s operations] are routine and highly traumatic for us, and we’re done putting up with it. In the face of immoral repression, we’re standing in solidarity and sharing a meal with our neighbors, loved ones, and community.”
Houseless individuals were notified earlier in the week that the City of Atlanta planned to send the Atlanta Police Department’s HOPE (Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement) team to conduct the forced tent removal and clear the area, furthering displacement of the individuals who seek shelter and help from the church which has reportedly helped the houseless community in Atlanta for the past 13 years.
“Instead of giving [the church] the support they deserve for their generosity, the city is now … threatening to fine them, because the city cares more about attractive streets than the well-being of Atlantans,” reads AHU’s official press release sent out on Tues., Aug. 24. “The city could be working on meeting our demands for basic needs: housing, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and a seat at the table. Instead, we are still without so much as a bathroom that we can access 24 hours a day, and the city is investing resources in displacing us and destroying our only belongings in the whole world.”
While police staged the area with ADID, who are typically tasked with coming behind the police to remove individuals’ belongings, people reportedly chanted, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” The ADID unit did initially remove one tent, sources say, but the belongings had already been safely removed and the tent was promptly replaced by AHU. After receiving pressure from the public, ADID reportedly put the tent they placed in their truck back in the possession of AHU.