By Amy Wenk
The sky was clear and blue on May 4, when seven state prisoners in tan jumpsuits and orange vests cleaned up “Tent City,” once the hidden home of three people and their three makeshift tents.
For most of the afternoon, police cars with blinking blue lights lined the shoulder of I-285 east before the Roswell Road/Sandy Springs exit.
Prisoners carried orange bags of trash out of Tent City, a narrow strip of land along the highway that had been best accessed through a hole in the fence by the dumpsters behind Sierra Place Apartments on Northwood Drive. That was until prisoners took an axe to the area to create a passage through the trees to remove garbage heaps left by the former inhabitants.
“Smells like a circus,” Sgt. Scott Levy, assistant commander of the city’s south police district, said as he watched prisoners throw the waste into a yellow dumpster truck.
Tent City’s residents and their tents had already vacated. Patrol officers warned them about the cleanup effort, Community Officer Elizardo Rodriguez Jr. said.
“The tents were taken down,” he said. “They haven’t come back up since contact was initiated.”
Prison crews may need another cleanup day at Tent City, said Community Officer Timothy Burrell. But they may also hit another homeless hotspot, the bridge under Calibre Springs, an apartment complex off Lake Placid Drive.
Sandy Springs Police discovered Tent City about five months when nearby apartment managers complained about the trash and drinking in the highway bushes.
Since Tent City sits on right-of-way owned by the Georgia Department of Transportation, Sandy Springs police had no authority to remove the people, tents and trash from the property.
But after talks with the city, state transportation officials offered to send prison work crews and a truck to aid the city in cleaning up the area.
“I’ve never dealt with DOT before,” Rodriguez said. “I liked the response. It’s actually worked out smoothly.”