To fully understand the social impacts of the homeless communities presence through surrounding areas we need to understand the specific circumstances surrounding Atlanta’s Hurt park itself.
Hurt park is a triangle shaped park between Edgewood Avenue, Gilmer Street, and Courtland Street. It opened in 1940, being named after streetcar developer Joel Hurt. Currently, Hurt Park is surrounded by Georgia State University and its buildings including the recital hall, student centers, sports arena and welcoming centers. It’s located between two Marta stations as well as directly adjacent to Atlanta’s street car passes by Edgewood Avenue.
Another important understanding to know about the city is it’s laws and rules on parks and those that specifically address the homeless. How does the Muni Code or “Law” of Atlanta set an inherent negative outlook on homeless people and their existence through the cities’ legislation and rulings?
The first thing we should look at is the term “urban camping“, when reading that it doesn’t sound like it addresses the homeless per say and makes the discussion sound more pleasant than it really is. It not only mis directs readers from the main purpose of this law it also makes light of this serious problem through deception and generalization. When using the term urban camping, it refers to all people who place themselves for an extended period of time throughout city owned or public utilities including sidewalks, streets, or public buildings only excluding parks. Though this generalizes all residents it only affects the homeless community, no home owners would have the need for “urban camping“. This make parks a housing ground for the homeless as it is one of very few places where they are allowed to sit, stand and just exist without being threatened to be arrested for disobeying this ordinance.
This of course though causes for discontent for the homeless as increased begging or more unpleasantries from the homeless affect residents daily lives around the areas causing issues. Atlanta home residents, though living with a commensalistic (meaning where one side benefits and the other for the most part is unchanged) relationship between them and the homeless, try and avoid confrontations with the homeless entirely. Most passersby avoid eye contact and discussion, usually focusing ahead or acting as if they are not there at all. Some may help, but that number is far lower when there is a stronger concentration of the homeless community when focused around parks as a sense of competition is increased and individuality is diminished. For instance, instead of seeing one outlier in a group, a homeless man on a street who is asking for spare change, you now see a row or groups of homeless people and instead of thinking I want to help that one man you may be discouraged into helping any single member in spite that other of that group will want your pity as well, and may be offended or disheartened you didn’t help them.
Another key area of this law states ““Interference (or “interfere”) with ingress and egress” means standing, sitting, lying down, using personal property, or performing any other activity on public property and/or in a park, where such activity: a) materially interferes with the ingress into and egress from buildings, driveways, streets, alleys, or any other real property that has a limited number of entrances/exits, regardless of whether the property is owned by the city, a private owner or another public entity; b) reasonably appears, in light of all of the circumstances, to have the purpose of blocking ingress and egress; and c) occurs without the express written permission of the owner of the property at issue (Municode Library). Where written permission has been granted, the individuals interfering with ingress and egress must have possession of the permission at the time of the activity in question.” Generally this means the homeless may not have anything that can not be moved or set to be in an area permanently, and if they did they would be breaking this ordinance if it were to block access with “reasonable appearances”. This is why you notice the homeless are always traveling light, carrying bags or having their possessions in a cart. They have to be mobile or else they risk the very few opportunities and freedoms they still have.