Unsheltered No More—Fighting Homelessness in Atlanta

Atlanta Homeless Registry

 

A community is responsible for its own. No place more so than Atlanta; as the capital of the South, there’s a certain degree of classic hospitality that A-town has to exude—it’s only proper.

And this extends to Atlanta’s homeless population. Right now, thousands of individuals and families live on the streets of the ATL: we don’t always know who they are, or where they are—and therein lies the problem.

See, it’s a dangerous world out there (looking out the window, for example, we know the worst of winter has yet to come). So that’s where Unsheltered No More comes in— an initiative set up between Mayor Kasim Reed, the 100,000 Homes Campaign and community leaders from across the city. The goal: to provide permanent housing and support to 800 homeless in Atlanta by December, 2013: this includes temporary financial and support services to 200 episodic homeless; a permanent rental subsidy and custom-tailored support services to 200 chronic homeless; and everything necessary for 400 homeless veterans to get back on their feet and moving towards independence.

On the evenings of January 18th and 25th and the morning of January 19th over 190 volunteers canvassed Atlanta’s streets and shelters for homeless men and women to survey about their current housing and health concerns.  Here to share his experience on those evenings is Atlanta Homeless Registry volunteer and Socialvest Team Member Quinn:

Why did you participate in the Atlanta Homeless Registry?

Several reasons. First, I have been born & raised in Metro-Atlanta and am a current resident of the city living in midtown, so local issues hold great weight with me.  Second, we here at Socialvest are committed to doing more than just providing causes with an awesome way of sparking online social good.  We all try to do our part in providing a physical presence in local volunteer opportunities, benefit events, and other festivities because these causes are important to us. And lastly I am also a great empathizer with the homeless population due to members of my immediate family having been homeless at different periods of their lives. I also understand how easy it can be to really become homeless so in an effort to show my gratitude for what I have I decided to help those less fortunate.

What were you hoping to help accomplish with the Unsheltered No More and the 100,000 Homes Campaign?

I am hoping to help identify as many homeless men, women, and children as possible and provide accurate information that will help everyone receive the housing and support they need to thrive independently.  I also hope to help change the stigma that homeless individuals carry.  Not all homeless men and women are lazy, alcohol and drug users who are homeless because of their own vices or life choices.  Some people just have a streak of bad luck and end up on the street and sometimes that is a hard place to come back from if you don’t have the proper support system.  Others have severe mental or physical disabilities that limit them from participating in the larger society, but that is no reason they should have to live on the streets and in shelters.

What was your most surprising part of the experience?

For me there were a few surprising factors.  One thing that surprised me was that almost everyone I interviewed said there was no one close to them that they personally trust.  Many feel very alone in their struggle and seem to not all the way trust anyone, not even a worker at the shelters where they spend their days and nights.  It was also a surprising find for a few shelter managers I spoke with who are looking to make that connection.  But all the surprises of the experience were not negative, in fact the most surprising thing I learned was the wealth of optimism that these individuals spoke of. Many of the men and women I spoke with described themselves as being in good spirits.  They were cracking jokes, smiling and laughing even while living in a shelter under such dire circumstances.  Many described themselves as being in pretty good health and that they had no time to be depressed and didn’t suffer from overwhelming stress.  They were not going to let their situation hold them down, they were still fighting and that was a very inspiring thing to learn.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience for you?

I took several things away from my experience including the inspiration I spoke about in my last response.  I also met some great people on the volunteer side of things.  People from all walks of life from students, to professionals, to local homeless advocates (which we all quickly became) sharing an evening to help out our less fortunate neighbors.  It was a great energy sharing a room with these people.  I also am going to keep with me the humbleness and gratitude for what I have because in speaking with many of these people it is one bad decision or even just one unlucky position that can take it all away.  It will make you appreciate what you have more.

Have you heard any results of the surveys?

Yes I have.  Last Friday, Mayor Kasim Reed and other leaders of the Unsheltered No More initiative addressed the volunteers, service providers, and other community leaders with the results of the surveys.  There were over 190 of us (volunteers), and we were able to reach 762 homeless men, women, and children! We also learned a bit about our homeless here in Atlanta, for example the average age of those surveyed is 47 with the oldest person being 87 years old.  That was heartbreaking to learn.  The longest tenured homeless individual had lived on the street for 50 years, thats almost two of my lifetimes.  We also learned how much it would costs to house and provide services to these individuals.    Of the 762 surveys, 23% were considered chronically homeless. To house and service a chronically homeless individual the estimated cost is $17,274 annually per individual. But of the 32% that are considered episodically homeless the cost is drastically smaller. To help out just one of these individuals for a year it would cost an estimated $2,200.  That’s it, just $2,200 to get a person of the street and back on their feet. The city will be releasing the full statistics of the surveys soon so everyone will be able to see what we have to work with in order to get these men, women, and children off the streets.

Are you aware of any more opportunities to get involved with Unsheltered No More?

While this was a big step forward in housing and servicing the homeless population of Atlanta, it was still the first step.  There is still work to be done as far as arranging and coordinating all the service and housing providers, keeping track of the homeless men and women we have interviewed, and many other fundraising drives to help keep the project rolling along.  If you continue to check both the Unsheltered No More website and The 100,000 Homes Campaign site new volunteer opportunities may pop-up any day.