For more than 35 years, beginning with its founding in 1981, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless served as the central coordinating agency for services to Atlantans experiencing homelessness. Funded by state and federal sources as well as high-profile benefactors, the Task Force served hundreds of thousands of people over the years, largely through The Center at Peachtree-Pine, which opened in 2007 and eventually was cited as the largest homeless shelter in the Southeast, serving up to 15,000 people each year. This included thousands of women with children, who were the fastest-growing group of Atlantans seeking housing support in the 1990s.
Although Peachtree-Pine was the Task Force’s most visible presence in the eyes of many Atlantans, the organization’s mission and programs extended far beyond the shelter and centered on the goal of eliminating homelessness in Atlanta. Apart from the shelter, the Task Force’s other services included an assistance hotline, job training, medical screenings and referrals for care, street outreach, transportation, transitional housing, an art studio and gallery, a resident volunteer program, and data collection to track the number of people in Atlanta and the metro area experiencing homeless and compile demographic profiles of those needing services. Most fundamentally, the organization operated as a clearinghouse to connect people with short- and long-term housing and job opportunities, but the Task Force was also involved in advocacy and education around complex and still-relevant issues connected to homelessness, such as healthcare access and affordability, public housing, economic justice, and civil rights.
Over the years, the Task Force became known not only for its essential work but also for its troubled relationships with Atlanta’s city government and the local business community and for controversies related to public health concerns and criminal activity at Peachtree-Pine. These widely reported struggles eventually led the shelter to close in 2017 and to the Task Force ceasing operations in 2019. This closure meant the end of an essential safety net for many Atlantans. It also left the Task Force and its founders and board members to grapple with a decidedly mixed legacy, and it left other advocates, who provide services to the homeless, with the challenge of overcoming negative public sentiment and building new partnerships with local government, community agencies, and funders. In part because of the organization’s complex story, preserving the records of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless provides a window onto economic and political debates that shaped the development of Atlanta in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and, more importantly, onto the human stories of homelessness in the city, bringing attention to voices and perspectives not often documented in the formal historical record.