Around 30 supporters and the founder of a nonprofit in a legal battle with Sandy Springs protested at the March 5 City Council meeting. The group wore orange T-shirts that said “We Are ‘You People’,” referencing a statement a top city official is alleged to have said.
The nonprofit, Mary Hall Freedom House, has been embroiled in legal challenges brought by the city for more than a year, alleging it is violating zoning rules by operating a drug treatment facility.
“I’m just here this evening with a great crowd of supporters that say the work that Mary Hall Freedom House has done has impacted over 10,000 lives,” said Lucy Hall, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit, during the meeting.
MHFH, which helps women with homelessness and addiction issues, in 2017 bought more than a third a north end condo complex, drawing criticism from other residents and legal challenges from the city. In December 2018, MHFH sued the city, claiming it’s trying to push out minorities and disabled people.
The nonprofit’s previous strategies to fight the city’s legal challenges have included enlisting a public relations firm that brought in former Atlanta Mayor, U.S. Representative and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and hosting a prayer vigil with top local faith leaders. MHFH also launched a website, which appears to have been deactivated, directly targeting Mayor Rusty Paul called “shameonrustypaul.com.”
Hall, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit, claimed in the public comment period at the meeting that she does not understand why the city has suddenly targeted the nonprofit after working for years in the city, which previously financially supported the group and awarded Hall.
“I just really wanted to say the council as well as the city attorney that I’m really perplexed we’ve had to sustain these months of continuous accusations.”
The mayor and City Council did not respond to Hall at the meeting.
City spokesperson Sharon Kraun did not comment on Hall’s remarks or the lawsuit. The city will “reserve comment until the court has decided on the matter,” she said in an email.
“The community is always encouraged to attend meetings with the comment period a time set aside for community members to share their thoughts with the council,” she said.
The nonprofit is located on the city’s north end, where residents are becoming more vocal about a redevelopment plan a city-created task force drafted last year. The two co-chairs of the task force have launched a new group opposing the plan. A new group of mostly residents of the upscale Huntcliff neighborhood launched later to call for improvements to the area.
Most of the MHFH supporters wore T-shirts that said, “We Are ‘You People’,” referencing a lawsuit allegation that Community Development Director Ginger Sottile referred to MHFH residents as “these people.”
Many in the crowd were MHFH partners in the local faith community or on the nonprofit’s board, Hall said. Several of the same people, including Temple Emanu-El Senior Rabbi Spike Anderson, joined a prayer vigil Feb. 22 calling for MHFH’s success in its legal battles.
Among them was Beth Schafer, Temple Sinai’s cantorial chair, who oversees music programs. Schafer also delivered the night’s invocation, which is delivered by various local faith leaders at the start of each meeting, using the time to call on the city to help the poor, among other statements.
Schafer said she supports MHFH because she believes are following the law and “doing the sacred work of supporting people as they try and live healthy, productive, self-sustaining lives.”
“I would hope that the leadership of our city would see it as a badge of honor to have such an organization working to the betterment of our community,” Schafer said in an email. “Sandy Springs is a city that enjoys abundant privilege. It is my prayer that we use that privilege to improve the lives of all who live among us.”