Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ATLANTA, GA – Anti-vagrancy laws have been on the books in many U.S. cities for almost two decades now. These laws, aimed most specifically at homeless people, render innocuous activities like sleeping on park benches, loitering, and asking for money illegal. Rather than investing in needed services, some cities also allocate funds to various “beautification” initiatives to further discourage homeless people from frequenting public spaces – like, for example, Atlanta’s “bum-proof” flower pots.
Flower pots have always been on the walls in and around Woodruff Park. But sometime in early January city workers installed so many more that sitting is now impossible. These walls were places where people from all walks of life sat with friends eating lunch, or sat while waiting for the bus, or, in the case of homeless folks, sat peacefully playing cards because they have no place else to go. No new park benches have been installed, and the aesthetic is particularly incongruent because police barriers still surround the park to keep the Occupy movement at bay.
Atlanta has always had a bad reputation when it comes to addressing homelessness. In preparation for the 1996 Olympics, almost 9,000 homeless people were bussed out of the city. Likewise, city officials continue their attempts to shut down the Metro-Atlanta Homeless Taskforce, which provides shelter for about 600 people every night. Even now, with homeless numbers up because of the bad economy, the city has opted to add flower beds instead of shelter ones. Somehow, this brings an entirely different meaning to the phrase Flower Power that just doesn’t sit right.
Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.