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A new kind of cafe, to help the homeless

In 1996, Jeff Batton opened Sacred Grounds, a coffee shop that helped pave the way for East Atlanta Village's revitalization.

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Now, Batton is hoping a new coffee shop will help turn around the lives of homeless Atlantans.

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"It's all nonprofit, yet you don't want it to have that air of a thrift store," Batton says of his latest project, a cafe to be operated by residents of a nearby homeless shelter. "We don't want it to have that connotation."

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Batton has been hired as the manager of the cafe, set to open in July at the intersection of Peachtree and Pine streets. The business, which does not yet have a name, will occupy part of a building owned by the Task Force for the Homeless and will adjoin the Task Force's shelter.

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The cafe will be located just blocks from Edgewood Avenue's Cafe 458, an all-volunteer weekend brunch spot where proceeds go toward feeding, clothing, and finding work for the homeless.

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Likewise, the profits from Batton's cafe will go to the Task Force's shelter, which serves approximately 800 people daily in the winter and offers food, shelter, clothing and career counseling.

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At the cafe, shelter residents will serve coffee, bus tables, and prepare the food, all of which will be organic and prepackaged so customers can take orders to go.

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Our Gallery, which opened in 2000 and displays paintings by shelter residents, currently occupies the cafe space. But the gallery wasn't as profitable as the Task Force had hoped.

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However, the artwork done by the shelter's artists will remain on the walls of the new cafe. And if all goes according to plan, the work will be seen by a steady stream of coffee shop customers.

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So far, Task Force representatives have met with neighborhood group Midtown Alliance, city planners, and an architect to come up with plans for the 2,000-square-foot space. The next step is fundraising. The Task Force plans to campaign to raise money to deflect the $250,000 in construction and equipment costs.

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"Our goal is to open July 4, which I think is aggressive," Batton says. "Before then, we have to raise some money. We want to start building some momentum."

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Task Force organizers say that they are anxious to take the shelter in a direction consistent with the changing Midtown neighborhood. As the area has become more gentrified, the drugs and crime surrounding the shelter have become increasingly unwelcome.

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On a recent Tuesday evening, an Atlanta Police cruiser sat with its lights flashing outside of Django Gypsy Kitchen, one of the shelter's neighbors. Django owner Brendan Brennan says police were arresting two men involved in a drug deal.

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"The homeless shelter isn't the problem," Brennan says. "It's the people that prey on the shelter — the crack dealers. I think that the cafe, if it helps to keep that kind of thing away, could be great."

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Anita Beaty, executive director of Task Force for the Homeless, anticipates that the cafe will help shelter residents play a role in Midtown's resurgence.

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"The best way to combat homelessness is to welcome the homeless into the community," Beaty says. "We are demythologizing the whole idea of homelessness and creating real diverse communities."

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GET INVOLVED: To make a donation to or volunteer with the Task Force for the Homeless, call 404-589-9495 or visit www.homelesstaskforce.org.




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