A production company set to shoot a TV show downtown helped put homeless activists up in hotel rooms on Tuesday, after local leaders told them they couldn’t camp in tents along the sidewalk. 

Activists with the Atlanta Homeless Union, a new advocacy group demanding more resources for unhoused people, claimed crews with Central Atlanta Progress’s Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID) team robbed them of their tents and other belongings. 

But that’s not the full picture, according to Tammy Hughes, ADID’s social impact director. On Monday, she said, ADID’s homeless outreach team ASIST and Atlanta police officers “spent three hours offering to help the individuals with shelter placement.”

“Of the 16 people on the sidewalk that day, 12 accepted assistance and were relocated to nearby shelters,” Hughes added. Then, “ADID’s Clean Team cleared the remaining tents and belongings from the sidewalk.” 

In addition to being upset that their effects were confiscated, many Atlanta Homeless Union activists are adamant about avoiding shelter placement — something they consider dehumanizing.

Fleetwood Robinson, an activist who is experiencing homelessness, said, “We don’t like going through that.” He likened urging people to crowd into shelters to “a hate crime, if you look at it more from our shoes.”

In response, location managers with Blacklight Studios, the production company that had plans to film in the area where people were camped out, helped book six nights in a hotel for 40 of the people who activists said were “displaced,” provided MARTA cards for those people “so they can still get from the hotel to work or tend to their business,” replaced the seized tents and arranged to have food delivered to the hotel “on the three nights they are filming,” according to an Atlanta Homeless Union press release. 

This week’s events follow a recent spate of clashes between the group’s activists and officials with the Atlanta Police Department (APD), ADID and Partners for HOME, the City of Atlanta’s homeless outreach partner.

Last week, police arrested nine Atlanta Homeless Union activists who had pitched tents outside city hall as part of a protest of the city’s treatment of its homeless population. That demonstration and the ensuing actions accompany a demand for “housing, healthcare and a seat at the table,” the group has said.

Partners for HOME executive director Cathryn Marchman, however, told Atlanta Civic Circle that officials have provided ample opportunities for activists to have their voices heard. “We held a [Continuum of Care] meeting yesterday with over 120 attendees,” she said on Wednesday. “I invited [Atlanta Homeless Union members] to attend and offered them agenda time, and I do not believe anyone showed.”

Additionally, Marchman said, the Atlanta Homeless Union’s list of demands can’t be fulfilled overnight. “Getting people into housing — while it is our number one goal — is not done immediately or the same day … which is why we use shelters as a temporary option, only for those who want it,” she said. “There were several folks there that day who eagerly accepted shelter.”

Still, Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, an activist and Atlanta City Council candidate, said the fact that Blacklight Studios felt inclined to step in and help out is indicative of problematic city systems that don’t do enough to help the homeless. “I think the city of Atlanta has an obligation to make sure that all of our citizens have a safe place to sleep and food on the table,” he said in an interview with Atlanta Civic Circle.

Atlanta Homeless Union organizers said that their fight is far from over, and that they’ll continue protesting what they consider unfair treatment of the city’s most marginalized people.

“We hope this is an inspiration to unhoused people across the country to show the power we have when we organize and work together,” the group said in a statement, later adding, “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.”

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