Atlanta Council Committee Working Session on Homeless Youth
(AFN) ATLANTA – On Wednesday, March 9, 2022, the Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety/Legal Stewardship Committee held a business session on City of Atlanta’s proposed Ordinance 22-O-1076, which would add exemptions to Atlanta’s curfew laws for homeless teens and emancipated teens.
Previously, as Atlanta Progressive News reported, the committee considered the ordinance, presented by Councilman Byron Amos (District 3), at its committee meeting on January 24, 2022,
“I don’t feel like a byproduct of homelessness should be stopped,” Amos told the Committee.
The working session was chaired by Committee Chair, Dustin Hillis (District 9); and was attended by Amos, Andrea Boone (District 10) and Keisha Waites (Post 3-at-large).
Atlanta Police Department (APD) Deputy Chief Darin Schierbaum said the APD reviewed statistics from the previous year and was pleased to find no incidents in which a youth, considered as homeless, had been arrested for a curfew violation.
“In terms of our approach, if our officers were to encounter a minor in violation of curfew tonight, and we can determine that the individual is homeless for whatever reason, the first course of action is to turn to the Department of Family and Children’s Services, which is what our policy requires us to do, not to proceed with an arrest action, if that is the only reason the agent meets the miner,” Schierbaum said.
“Outside of DFACS, the main after hours response to help a minor would be the @Promise Centers. We currently have three located in the city… We would refer to these, they have an after hours protocol hours of work… do an assessment and then follow the protocols to connect that young man or woman to resources under the @Promise umbrella,” he said.
Assistant Attorney Erika D. Smith said she and attorney Raines Carter want to make sure that parents and guardians are not exempted from their responsibilities to supervise children in their care under a separate code section, 106-228, “which puts the onus on the parents.”
“The reason I felt it was so important for us to show up today is that as long as the penalty of physical arrest remains in the Code, there is always the possibility that this happen, whether it’s, you know, an officer who’s not very well trained or somehow, you know, depending on the circumstances,” said Moki Macias, executive director of the Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative.
“And that, I think arresting a child for being out at night is probably not the most effective way to solve the problem,” Macias said.
“Our recommendation is to reclassify the charge as a ticketable offence, maintain existing exemptions, add new ones that feel necessary, but what really concerns us is the penalty of arrest. physical,” Macias said.
“At Covenant House, our mission is, it implores us to treat our young people with unconditional love and absolute respect and to show grace whenever possible,” Miko Colonel, shelter coordinator, Covenant House Georgia, said.
Covenant House Georgia is one of the largest service providers for homeless youth, offering shelter for youth 18 and older, as well as a drop-in center serving teens and young adults.
“Our young people experiencing homelessness need support rather than punishment, and we find that experience in the criminal justice system just creates another barrier for our young people in obtaining housing, sometimes financial aid, job security and certain public benefits,” the colonel said.
“We support the amendment…to exempt homeless youth from criminalization and place them in the criminal justice system,” said Diana Mason, Outreach Director for CHRIS 180.
“When we talk about the mental and physical health issues that these young people may experience while experiencing homelessness, we need to understand that there are higher rates of chronic homelessness,” Mason said.
“And so what that also means if we criminalize them for being on the streets in that time frame, that will also repeatedly have them in the system and create those barriers as Covenant House mentioned,” Mason said. .
“And that would certainly prevent them from receiving long-term future benefits that would help stabilize their situation,” Mason said.
“Decriminalizing homeless youth will reduce their stressors and improve their mental health and capacity,” she said.
Sana Ali, homelessness liaison for Atlanta Public Schools, said APS has found some 1,100 homeless children who are APS students either homeless and living with their families, be homeless and alone.
Ali said the APS has seen a recent increase in the number of families living in their cars, particularly due to the rising cost of housing in Atlanta.
Ali said two to three percent of homeless children are currently completely homeless.
Devin Barrington-Ward, a young formerly homeless man from Atlanta, made public comments.
Barrington-Ward said he served on the Atlanta Detention Center Reimagining Task Force as an appointee of then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and also served on the sub -political committee of the working group.
“We have to look for ways to decriminalize the Code,” he said.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2022)