DeKalb County is not making a significant effort to attract businesses that are compatible with the lives and hopes of the citizens in North Dekalb County, and despite the county’s stated duty to provide a safe community,1 it continues to allow crime-drawing businesses to be concentrated on Buford Hwy and along Clairmont Road.
The last few months, I have been driving and walking Buford Hwy from the Sun Tan Shopping Center (just south of N. Druid Hills Rd.) north to Cancun Plaza (just north of Dresden Dr.) talking to businesses and residents. While doing that, one of the people I talked to was April Gresham on Thursday, August 2, the general manager of the Honey Baked Ham at 2909 Buford Hwy.
The visit that day acquainted me with another problem in this area that qualifies as a “nuisance” since nuisances are “activities and conditions (that)may be associated with illegal criminal activity that has also been proven to have a demonstrable adverse impact on community residences and results in neighborhood blight.“2
Ms. Gresham is having a difficult time managing the business because of a cadre of panhandlers who have taken over the location. While I was there on August 2 at around 3:30 pm to 4:15 pm, several panhandlers loitering in front of the Honey Baked Ham (HBH) accosted cars, asking for money and in effect blocked the driveway into the business. The HBH manager told me they were a common fixture at the business. Several of them boarded a small orange bus going north on Buford Hwy after they were unsuccessful panhandling at the HBH for 15 or 20 minutes.
However, one panhandler remained and sauntered back and forth across the driveway of the HBH – again preventing traffic from entering the business. At least 2 vehicles pulled into the parking lot of the empty building next door, and the occupants got out and came over to the HBH, probably to pick up ordered hams. By parking next door, they avoided the panhandler blocking the driveway. The assumption that potential HBH customers did not stop because they did not want to contend with panhandlers does not require an enormous logical leap.
The panhandler blocking the driveway eventually shuffled over to the wooden deck on the HBH side of the empty building next door, where there were large foam pieces and carpet padding remnants. I watched while he gathered together some of them, made himself a bed, laid down, and went to sleep. Snacks, food, and drinks were stacked on a nearby electrical box at the side of the empty building.
The HBH manager told me that HBH Corporate was considering pulling that store out of there, and just abandoning the location because of the panhandlers and vagrants.
A few weeks later on Tuesday, August 28, the HBH property manager, Matt Meisels, called me twice from CA asking for my impression of the situation and any information I might have about it. He told me he has visited the store, as well as the CVS and Red Roof Inn, both across the street. The Red Roof manager told him when guests ask about nearby places to eat, he never recommends HBH, although it is right across the road, the food is very good, and Ms. Gresham supplies them with HBH coupons. He does not recommend HBH because of the panhandlers and vagrants that are always hanging around the HBH. I emailed Mr. Meisels some of the photos I took while I was at the HBH on August 2.
So, on August 28 at about 2:00 pm, I went back to HBH to see the manager, Ms. Gresham. The panhandler who had bunked down on the deck of the empty building next door when I was there last, again was cozied up on his nest of foam and carpet padding on the deck next door. More accoutrements had been added to the deck space, and another man was napping while sitting up on the other side of the deck railing off the deck itself. Besides the piles of food, snacks, and drinks stacked on the electrical boxes and deck railing, now a black plastic bag containing things unknown was dangling from the electrical boxes.
The HBH manager said when she came to work that morning, five of the panhandlers/vagrants were lying asleep on the cement at the entrance way. She had to rouse them awake to get them to move so she could at least open the front door. I asked if she called the DeKalb Police. She had not because on previous visits, the DeKalb County Police had told her that if she wanted the panhandlers to be moved, they should be cited, and to be cited, she would have to go to the DeKalb County Jail on Memorial Drive and fill out papers.
We’ve been given the excuse that late night establishments, pawn shops, check cashing offices, and other crime-attracting businesses3 bring income into DeKalb County. These businesses cannot be a positive fiscal element if they drive away other types of businesses that are not crime magnets and do not disrupt neighborhoods. The stability of our neighborhoods depends on stable businesses that serve residents in the neighborhoods, as well as people who work in the area, and are a positive contributor to the community. We have to at least make an attempt to keep those businesses in our community. If the Honey Baked Ham leaves, that will lessen stability in the area, and encourage more blight. These days, Buford Hwy is synonymous with blight. That association can be turned around with conscientious efforts made by county and Brookhaven officials, county and Brookhaven police, and support from businesses and residents.
DeKalb County seems to have decided to abandon Buford Hwy to the bars, pool halls, night clubs, pawn/title shops, check cashing stands, massage parlours, gambling machines installed in convenience/fuel shops, and whatever sleazy business applies for a SLUP or zoning change. Why is DeKalb encouraging these tacky places while making it more and more difficult for stable, positive businesses like Honey Baked Ham to stay in the area? The majority of residents on and around Buford Hwy, whether low, medium, or upper middle class (they are all there), are not willing to give in to crime and blight. We expect DeKalb County to take actions that follow its stated goals to protect citizens, neighborhoods, and businesses, and promote their well-being.
Why have panhandlers been allowed to take over the Honey Baked Ham location, driving away customers and endangering the safety of the HBM staff, as well as that of the customers who park next door in order to come onto the store premises to pick up ordered hams? No one goes there to eat, although individual portions of food and sandwiches are sold there. No one wants to stay on the premises and watch the panhandler/vagrant activities surrounding the store while they eat, or be accosted by panhandlers/vagrants.
DeKalb County has no aggressive panhandling ordinance on its books. It has NO panhandling ordinance on its books that I could find, save one prohibiting begging on County property.4 Gwinnett County has a panhandling law that sets strict limits on when and where homeless people can ask for money, and violators face fines of up to $500 and/or 10 days in jail. The urban camping ban holds a fine of $1,000 and incarceration for 60 days.5
Cities around the country are trying to deal with panhandling and vagrancy, including passing legal bans on sleeping outdoors or loitering. More cities are trying to redevelop their downtowns and clean up other areas, and they are putting legal instruments into place to combat panhandling and vagrancy. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that begging is free speech and is protected by the First Amendment.6 But, what of the rights of businesses, their clients, and area residents? Don’t they have a right to live and work free from harassment; free from disgusting sights, smells, and language, e.g., individuals unwashed for months with dirt encrusted face, hands, and feet; discarded soiled underwear; stale beer or whisky smelling vomit; filthy “nests” fashioned from dirty scrap cardboard, foam, carpet, and whatever.
Aggressive panhandling could be treated as simple assault. Laws against soliciting, lying down on property not owned by the person, sleeping on property without permission, loitering, and other reasonable ordinances could be enacted by the Commissioners to give some relief to the victims of panhandlers and vagrants.
In Atlanta metro, panhandling and vagrancy creates additional expenses for the
property owners, including security, housekeeping, and building maintenance.
Because of panhandling and vagrancy, Atlanta has experienced failed real estate
deals that have resulted in loss of potential income from $10,000 to $1 million, which ultimately results in less taxes collected and jobs created in the city, state and county.6 Those activities are a detriment to growth and revitalization in North DeKalb County, particularly along Buford Highway.
The DeKalb County Police, and DeKalb County Code Enforcement have failed the owners of this Honey Baked Ham, as well as other stable, non-crime attracting businesses in the area. They have failed the staff and customers of this HBH. But, most of all, they have failed the area residents who want a safe, stable place to live with stable businesses to patronize and that enhance Buford Hwy. If this Honey Baked Ham pulls out and relocates, there will be another empty building on Buford waiting for the next sleazy “joint” to get a SLUP and move in. Positive, stable businesses do not move in next door to sleaze, nor do they move to where they will be inundated by unkept, aggressive, threatening panhandlers and vagrants. Why do business operators and residents have to have their safety, quality of life, and prosperity sacrificed in order to preserve the free speech of persons who only have a negative effect on our community?
1 An Ordinance to Amend the Code of DeKalb County, As Revised 1988,
to Require Certain Businesses to Obtain Special Land Use Permits from the Board
of Commissioners, and for Other Purposes. December 29, 2011. Page 1.
3 DeKalb County, Georgia, Code of Ordinances >> - CODE OF
DEKALB COUNTY >> Chapter 16 – MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS AND OFFENSES >> ARTICLE V. – OFFENSES AGAINST GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS Sec. 16-91