ATLANTA — Homeless advocates are calling for help Wednesday morning as they are trying to stop authorities from shutting down homeless camps set up on the sidewalk in downtown Atlanta.
The Fulton County Sheriff requested help from Georgia Capitol Police to address the camps near Capitol Square due to concerns near the Fulton County Courthouse about a "public safety issue," according to a spokesperson with the agency.
Authorities said the law enforcement agencies are working to find some sort of alternate location for the people who have set up camps in the area. Capitol Police claim all parties involved only want to promote public safety for all who live and work in the area.
As of 8:30 a.m., 11Alive crews saw the camps were still in place and had not been shut down yet.
"This is an ongoing issue that will be handled with care and respect for the dignity of those who work and visit the area and those who are currently unlawfully convening in the area," the spokesperson said.
Officers also told 11Alive's Kaitlyn Ross that it's an issue that will take time to figure out.
However, the Atlanta Homeless Union is decrying the relocation efforts, calling the operation a "sweep" and alleging it will leave members of the encampment displaced and without personal belongings.
"I was out here for 10 years in a row, homeless, addicted to drugs and someone came out here and helped me," Patrick Dent said.
Dent said he rushed to the encampment once he heard it would be cleared. He now runs a nonprofit dedicated to helping people experiencing homelessness -- and he said removing the encampment across the courthouse won't do them any good.
"It defeats the purpose," he said. "It's everything they own in those tents. So when they pick it up, even if we're trying to help get them in programs, we have to help them get ID, birth certificates all over again. All the things we get them to help them survive, they take it all away and put it in dumpsters, it's crazy."
Dent said he knows firsthand how hard it is to find a safe place to stay. When he was homeless, he said he would try to find similar places that are well traveled and feel safe.
"They feel safe here," he said about the people that have built their community across the courthouse. "It's lighting, that's where I would want to stay. When I was out here, I stayed where there was light with a police presence."
Dent said he wants the city and state officials asking these folks to move on to use compassion and to tap into their empathy.
"It could be your mother, brother, uncle, aunt, it could be anyone," he said. "Anyone could end up homeless."
The city said it had been using federal CARES money to fund a hotel to help get people without homes into a more stable environment. People who advocate for the homeless said it was working and they saw progress being made. However, when the funding dried up, the program had to close down and many people ended up back in the same encampments. Several advocates have applied for another federal grant to try to get the program up and running again, but they're unsure if or when they'll be awarded that money.
"Please stop discriminating against the homeless. They are people too, and there is a pandemic going on in this country with no pandemic relief for the homeless," William Price of the Atlanta Homeless Union wrote in a statement.
Organizers said the union aims to fight for housing, healthcare, and "a seat at the table" for those who are unhoused.
Authorities said law enforcement officials plan to put up notices in the future that provide information on where to go, and background about public safety concerns to those gathering at encampments.