ATLANTA — On July 5, the ATL Homeless Union (AHU) made history by forming their union and protesting at City Hall at the Atlanta Student Memorial, a monument in honor of nonviolent demonstrations. Atlanta Police Department (APD) reacted by violently arresting nine people, including unsheltered individuals, and Atlanta City Council neglected to discuss the unsheltered organizers’ demands until the very last minutes of their weekly meeting.
The ATL Homeless Union called for four major demands: homes, access to primary healthcare, sanitation and water (showers, bathrooms, etc.), and a seat at the table to make their voices heard by the city government. After protesters received a dispersal warning from the Atlanta Police Department, nine protesters were arrested, amongst whom one sustained a head injury.
The APD arrested protesters on misdemeanor criminal trespass charges after protesters did not disperse. It is still unclear who made the order for the mass arrest, and APD Assistant Chief Todd Coyt noted he was unsure whether Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms or Chief Bryant were made aware. Furthermore, Councilmember Michael Julian Bond noted that APD took protesters to the Fulton County Jail instead of city jail, where the protesters could have been released more easily through a signature bond. When Councilmember Bond asked if there were aggravated charges to justify the protesters be taken to Fulton County Jail, APD Assistant Chief Todd Coyt noted, “There were no aggravated circumstances. That was just the decision we chose to make yesterday to take them to Fulton County as opposed to city jail.”
When Councilmember Antonio Brown inquired as to whether Mayor Bottoms or Chief Bryant gave authorization for the arrests, he noted that many had to spend about $3,000 in bond to get out of jail. He said, “It was really unfortunate when they’re fighting to make sure that the unsheltered have a voice in the city.” Coyt responded he did not know if Mayor Bottoms was aware.
Several city council members praised Atlanta nonprofits and local organizations for their advocacy on behalf of the unhoused, much of which was directed at Cathryn Marcham, the Executive Director for Partners for Home who was brought in by APD during the protests. Additionally, many council members implied that the public was uninformed about the vast resources available to unsheltered individuals. This came on the heels of one hour and 45 minutes of public comment, most of which consisted of Atlanta residents speaking out against Cop City and in support of the Atlanta Homeless Union.
Marcham claimed that several of the AHU’s requests were out of the jurisdiction of the city. She also stated they are working on sanitation and water, and emphasized that she can refer them to services for healthcare at Mercy Health Care and Grady. Marcham further stated there was not a specific ask for housing in AHU’s demands, but that housing is the primary goal they are working toward. Lastly, the city council failed to give AHU their most basic demand: a seat at the table and the opportunity to voice their demands. Overall, the city council pushed the narrative that the unsheltered individuals and protesters were simply misinformed and out of touch with the resources and city programs available to them.
Unsheltered people, from their own lived experiences, know their circumstances best and what resources they need. As one organizer stated at a press conference on July 8, “We’re tired of having their knees on our neck. We don’t have healthcare. We don’t have a proper place to go shower … Atlanta has made [homelessness] a crime. If I lay in a building, I can get locked up.” He further criticized the current administration for running away from the current problems of homelessness, and emphasized the need for new officials who are willing to listen to unsheltered organizers’ and make significant changes.
However, despite Atlanta City Council’s continued referral to local services, their solutions (or lack thereof) remain largely out of touch with the AHU’s needs. The union stated themselves in their initial press release announcing the formation of their union, “We are not satisfied with the limited shelters that treat us less than human, a warming station in the winter, and some blankets. We are also not satisfied with the lack of healthcare treatment we receive at Grady. No more band aid solutions. We need homes. We need water.”
Currently, the AHU is actively organizing and working daily to continue advocating for real change over band-aid solutions. Throughout their advocacy, the heart of their demands have not changed: homes, water, food, and a seat at the table. It’s up to the city government now to meet those demands.
Follow the story of the ATL Homeless Union as it develops here.