Atlanta Beltline Mile 1: What’s Underneath?

In the 30 years I’ve lived in Atlanta, I’ve passed over this bridge dozens of times, never once considering what lies below. I can’t say where the bridge is because if the world knew, the residents here would lose their homes.

As I walk past a man’s home, I can see through his front window, right into his bedroom and kitchen. His bathroom and den are open to all those who walk by. But no one goes by his house because it happens to be under the bridge. It’s not where most of us go. In fact, most of us are afraid to go anywhere near.

I walk by casually, keeping my distance the same way I would walking down any other street in an unknown neighborhood. I would never walk up to a stranger’s home, open the front door and let myself in. So I extend the same courtesy to the people living beneath the bridge.

This man’s home is like any other home in Atlanta. The bed is made. His briefcase and shoes lined up neatly, just as ours are in our homes. We share the same taste in artwork – I love graffiti, too – and his walls are covered in it. I’m a bit jealous because he’s probably on a first-name basis with several of the graffiti artists.

His books and Monopoly game are neatly packed away in plastic crates, just like the ones most of us have in our basements. He’s got his hurbie-curvie packed full, just like the ones alongside my street. And like many others in Atlanta, this resident loves his evening cocktail. homeless garbage can

This man’s home is underneath a bridge because something changed the course of his life. Something significant. I don’t know what it was, but it’s not unlike my dear friend and neighbor Aidan. She lost her young son just this week. Neither she nor the man who lives underneath the bridge will ever be the same. Their lives are forever be changed because of something significant. They have much in common even though they live in opposite circumstances.

No one in this world is immune to suffering. Rich, poor. Black, white. Everyone shares pain and suffering. But we also share joy and hope, dreams and goals. Perhaps the desired result varies, but the experiences are not so different.

So let’s take a walk around this unique circle together. Let’s share our stories and realize it’s not much that separates us. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll even begin to understand one another.  And who knows, I might decide to take this man a casserole and see if he’ll walk with me down the tracks of the Atlanta Beltline. Won’t you join us?

  • Georganne
    Posted at 14:59h, 25 May

    Oh wow. Chill bumps and tears. I love how you look at and see things. If only all of us had your insight. As usual, a beautifully written piece. And I love the dignity you give to the “home”. It could be so many of us. This is a reminder to be grateful for our many blessing, great and small. You are a blessing to many, my friend!

  • Beltline_user
    Posted at 15:23h, 10 July

    I am pretty sure I ride by this gentleman (or men–not sure how many live under the bridges on both sides) a few times a week on my way to the Publix and Kroger. First of all, I seriously doubt anyone will do anything to bother these bridge-dwelling folks if the “secret” location is revealed. I have pity for any homeless, but I am also not happy that I can’t feel comfortable having my wife ride her bike or walk under this bridge, which is strewn on both sides with dozens of trash bags and huge piles of trash of all kinds. I think you may be romanticizing the resident(s) a little…and I imagine he enjoys more than an “evening cocktail”, unless by “evening cocktail” you mean as much cheap liquor as can be obtained at any time of the day or night through begging or other means. And I don’t really believe in members of the public claiming public land as their own permanently, even if they are do not turn it into a dirt flophouse surrounded by junk and filth, which this bridge hovel has become. If you want to help this guy, get him committed to treatment for the problems that have led him to live underneath a bridge. There are usually reasons why someone does not have a single family member or friend that will take them in, and it is usually because of serious mental health problems combined with drug and alcohol abuse, often with a dose of criminal history. (Have you ever looked through the sexual predator website and see how many are homeless? It is a much higher percentage than the percentage of homeless in the general public. So bring him some food if you want, but bring a friend or two along, or at least tell people exactly when and where you’re going first, and please don’t bring any kids with you….they needn’t suffer potential harm because of your misplaced sympathy.

  • lisaweldon
    Posted at 16:26h, 10 July

    Very good points. Yes, I tend to romanticize life a bit, hoping that some day problems like homelessness, alcohol abuse, mental problems, etc. will be solved. I have found a ministry that feeds the homeless. In fact, they know, personally, most of the people living under these bridges and are trying to correct some of the very things you mention.

    Having walked this and other portions of the Beltline, I have come across other problems along the way – poverty, struggling schools, property destruction. I’ve walked most of it myself – by myself – and never felt threatened. In fact, I have found some of the most intriguing graffiti, history, greenspaces. I’ve also interviewed people who grew up in some of the bordering neighborhoods and have got some great stories to tell.

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you taking the time and caring enough to do write. That’s how we get the word out.