Sunday, April 13, 2014

Homelessness and Graffiti



Posted by Kevin Barnes, ATLANTA, GA – In large cities around the country it seems like being homeless or seeing homeless people have become a normal part of urban everyday life. And yet while being homeless may not be illegal some of the activities they engage in the get by are against the law like panhandling and loitering, even though both activities are relatively harmless. Instead of penalizing people who are homeless perhaps cities should do a better job finding solutions – like affordable housing instead of shelters that are more like jails. Graffiti is another common urban issue that some think of as a crime and others as art. Graffiti is writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place. Graffiti ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, and it has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Egypt. However, like panhandling and loitering there are laws against partaking in graffiti and if you are caught you could do jail time.  


Atlanta is a graffiti art-filled city. Yes, most of it is Art, and the city allows graffiti in some areas like the Krog Street tunnel and this is where I met Larry, a talented graffiti artist who has also been homeless. Now he does graffiti art for a living. An organization called Living Walls hires Graffiti artists to create street murals around the city. The project is about a creative Atlanta where the city walls speak. 


At the same time there long legal battle over graffiti in Atlanta. One such case is the city against Douglas Grantham Jones (age 19) and Christopher Erik Smith (age 29) each charged with multiple counts of violating the city’s graffiti abatement ordinance on graffiti and destruction of property. Jones and Smith are talented graffiti artists. Jones uses the tag "Beav," police say, while Smith uses the tag "Vomet.” The two men may face six months in jail and / or $1,000 fine per violation. However both have pled not guilty and the legal case seems to be moving very slowly.  


Most of the graffiti in Atlanta is striking, good art, and gives the city a unique character just like most of the homeless people here are harmless and simply need housing.


Kevin Barnes is Sociology major at Georgia State University. He is also a photographer. He can be contacted at kbarnes15@student.gsu.edu