Andrew Young, left,a former Atlanta Mayor, U.S. Representative and U.N. Ambassador, talks with reporters about Mary Hall Freedom House alongside Lucy Hall-Gainer, right, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit, in one of the group’s units at the Reserve of Dunwoody complex on Dec. 3. (Evelyn Andrews)

Former Atlanta Mayor, U.S. Representative and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young on Dec. 3 toured the Mary Hall Freedom House transitional housing units in Sandy Springs that have drawn legal challenges from the city. The nonprofit has enlisted a public relations firm to help its fight against the city’s citations.

A committee made up of community and industry leaders that are friends of the public relations firm, Hope-Beckham Inc., drafted a report that found nothing awry at the nonprofit’s housing units at the Reserve of Dunwoody. The nonprofit, which helps women with homelessness and addiction issues, in 2017 bought more than a third of the 90-unit condo complex at 9400 Roberts Drive.

“I’d like to think these issues are not insurmountable and can be worked out,” said Jim Squire, a member of the committee who has served on city boards. “I’m sure [Mayor Rusty Paul] doesn’t have a vendetta against this group,” Squire said of MHFH during Young’s visit.

The crux of the issue is whether or not the nonprofit is operating drug treatment facilities out of the condos. The nonprofit says that it only houses its clients there and treatment takes place elsewhere.

The city believes it does, and has given the group 34 citations for operating without a business license — one for each of condos it owns and for its office at 8995 Roswell Road.

“These are not authorized uses under the city’s zoning ordinance,” city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said in an email.

Lucy Hall-Gainer, MHFH’s founder and CEO, said “the only thing that happens in these units is people living in them.”

Young visited the condos at the end of a tour with Hall-Gainer that visited other MHFH facilities in Sandy Springs, including its office and daycare facilities, as a part of a press event to promote the report. Young did not speak specifically about the city’s allegations, but touched more broadly on the importance of fighting homelessness.

Young is helping advocate for MHFH and spoke in support of it, but did not have specific solutions or advice on how to handle the city’s citations yet.

“This is something I wish we could replicate in 25 other places,” Young said of MHFH.

Young said that private partners like MHFH are important to helping people facing homelessness, which is often the result of factors outside of people’s control.

“Homelessness is the result of rapid social changes and the money not keeping with the needs,” he said. “Poverty and disease does not discriminate.”

The purchase of the 33 condos immediately drew criticism for displacing many tenants and has drawn complaints from residents for all-hours activity. The city’s citations have put a hold on the nonprofit’s plan to purchase the rest of the property.

The report drafted by the committee recommended delaying that step “until this issue with the city is completely settled.”

The report also encouraged Hall to pull all the police reports in the area to investigate the claim that the clients moving in has increased crime.

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