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Homeless advocate decries evictions from Athens park

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

An eviction notice is affixed to a tent in North Oconee Park

By Joe Johnson

County employees Monday morning affixed orange eviction notices to tents in which homeless people shelter themselves at the North Oconee Park.

The notices warn residents of the tents that the county will dispose of their belongings if they are not removed by noon on Thursday.

Athens Alliance Coalition President Charles Hardy, an ardent advocate for the county's homeless, questioned the timing of the eviction deadline, which is less than three hours before county officials and other stakeholders are scheduled to meet to share their initial thoughts on establishing a county-sanctioned homeless encampment.

Athens Alliance Coalition President Charles Hardy

County commissioners last month adopted a resolution that acknowledged the county’s homelessness problem and to establish a sanctioned location for the homeless to live.

The meeting, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday is being coordinated by the ACC Housing and Community Development Department.

“If we’re sitting down to discuss the homeless situation, why is the county manager giving instructions to remove the homeless now?” Hardy said.

Hardy’s organization has been providing free tents and food to members of the local homeless population. He said there are currently 14 tents in North Oconee Park, housing between 35-40 people

Leisure Services Director Kent Kilpatrick said the eviction notices given to residents of the park just happened to coincide with Thursday’s meeting.

” This is something we’ve been doing for the past 10 years, and that’s to enforce the county ordinance that camping is not allowed on county parkland,” he said.

“It’s a very compassionate system in which Advantage (Behavioral Health Systems) social workers are involved to help get people connected with any support and help they need,” Kilpatrick said.

Any belongings that are not removed from the park by the deadline will be placed in a parking lot there to give people a chance to claim their property, he said.

Hardy said that some people living in the park felt intimidated by police officers who accompanied Leisure Services employees as they were posting the eviction notices, one of whom Hardy said had his hand on his holstered weapon.

“In regards to Leisure Services, ACCPD is not involved with the disposal of any property, Athens-Clarke County police Public Information Officer Lt, Shaun Barnett said.

“Of course, ACCPD will respond to any criminal matter or threat to public safety,” he said. “However, we will not be actively involved in Leisure Services removal of items from their property.”

Kilpatrick said it will take weeks or months for the county to identify and prepare a location where homeless people can legally camp, and in the meantime his department will continue to enforce the no-camping ordinance.

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