December 20, 2021
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Many of you have asked about the relocation of unhoused individuals from our learning garden in the Edgewood neighborhood. I hope that the following information will help our friends and neighbors better understand what led us to this decision and the steps we have taken to make the transition compassionate and respectful of all those involved.
Our work in the Edgewood Neighborhood
Wylde Center’s mission is to support resilient communities by connecting people to nature through environmental education and public greenspace. We have been working in the Edgewood neighborhood at our Edgewood Community Learning Garden (Edgewood Garden) since 2012 in service of that mission. Our main work at the Edgewood Garden is to provide a space for our educators to lead field trips to students from the Atlanta Public Schools, to host community events, to lead free after school programs for neighborhood children, and to make sure the garden is open and ready for the neighborhood to enjoy.
Background of Unhoused Individuals at Edgewood
Since 2015, unhoused individuals have from time to time sought shelter at the Edgewood Garden. This activity was never sanctioned by Wylde Center. Until 2020, the use of the Edgewood Garden by unhoused people was transient. However, in the summer of 2020, the number of people staying at the Edgewood Garden increased from three to six. They turned the playhouse into a shelter and slept most nights around the Edgewood Garden and frequently used the wraparound porch as their shelter.
Accommodations Wylde Center provided
In an attempt to strike a balance between the successful operations of the Edgewood Garden and the reality that from time to time unhoused people would shelter there, over the last several years Wylde Center made a number of changes to the facility, including:
- Porta Potty: In August 2020, we set up a porta potty for use by the individuals taking temporary shelter to address the recurring presence of human feces on site.
- Water fountain: A water fountain under the sheltered porch was added in early 2020 to allow visitors access to water without entering the building during the pandemic.
- Storage: We provided storage space for some of the unhoused individuals to better manage their belongings during the day and to avoid their belongings being scattered throughout the garden. Eventually, that space became overwhelmed, and in some cases, destroyed, by these items.
Unfortunately, over the last 12 months, the Edgewood Garden has become effectively an encampment of unhoused individuals, overwhelming the capacity of Wylde Center staff and jeopardizing our mission to provide education and open greenspace to the community.
Wylde Center gathered information before making our next steps
Wylde Center is not a shelter organization or one that provides services to unhoused people. We do not have the resources that are needed nor the expertise. Thus, in September 2021, we reached out to partners whose focus is to work with and provide services for unhoused populations. We are pleased to say that we successfully connected with PAD (https://www.atlantapad.org/), which is set up to help with situations like the one we were experiencing at our Edgewood Garden, including working with our unhoused visitors in connection with housing, temporary shelter, medical and mental health services, financial assistance in some circumstances, and transportation to be placed with family.
We felt relieved that the people finding a temporary shelter at the Edgewood Garden would find help. PAD was equally appreciative that Wylde Center was taking a compassionate approach versus simply calling the Atlanta police department to remove the individuals.
Where we are today
- We are committed to using PAD resources to help find new protected shelters for all of our current unhoused individuals.
- The feedback from some of our unhoused population has been that they are eager for new options.
- Some of our unhoused individuals have already accepted help from PAD.
- We were encouraged to set a firm end date and have consistently communicated about this with the unhoused individuals over the last several weeks.
- Wylde Center has been in communication with APD HOPE (Homeless Outreach Prevention and Engagement) in the event we need to work with them.
From the time we started the conversation with PAD (September) to the giving notice to the unhoused individuals that they need to find a new place to stay (November 1) to today (December 20) when those who have not yet left will be encouraged to do so with the assistance of PAD and HOPE, our staff has spent time virtually every single day working to make this transition respectful, mindful, and compassionate.
The letter that was shared on social media dated December 13 was directly handed to the unhoused individuals at the Edgewood Garden after several days of verbal reminders. Each hand to hand delivery was accompanied by an explanation, the same explanation that has been given over the last six weeks. At each step, they have been encouraged to take advantage of the services provided by PAD or to find a new situation.
The most important thing to convey from our perspective is that every step of the way, including issuance of the request to vacate, has involved an open and compassionate conversation with the unhoused individuals at the Edgewood Garden. Those conversations have been met with open gratitude for what we have done/allowed and an understanding for why the current situation is no longer tenable.
Thank you for taking the time to read our letter and the steps that led to this point.
Stephanie Van Parys
Executive Director, Wylde Center
Policing Initiatives and Diversion Initiatives (PAD) https://www.atlantapad.org/
Free 99 Fridge https://free99fridge.com/
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