Atlanta’s Homeless Opportunity Bond Helps, but Won’t Replace Task Force


task force(APN) ATLANTA — On July 17, 2017, the City Council of Atlanta voted unanimously to authorize the Atlanta Development Authority (“Invest Atlanta”) to issue a 26 million dollar Homeless Opportunity Bond (HOB) to combat homelessness in Atlanta.    


The United Way of Greater Atlanta will match that with a 25 million dollar philanthropic donation.


Mayor Kasim Reed announced this initiative and that an additional 66 million dollars in public resources will be leveraged for a total investment of 115.6 million.  


Whether planned or incidental, the announcement of the bond approval came shortly after the news, first reported by Atlanta Progressive News in June 2017, that the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless–Atlanta’s largest overflow shelter–would be closing.


The closing of the Task Force will remove hundreds of shelter beds from the citywide inventory of beds.  


And while the Homeless Opportunity Bond will make critical investments in programming to help place many Atlantans who are currently experiencing homelessness, it will not replace those shelter beds.  Those beds, or a sufficient replacement, will not be available to future cohorts of homeless people in Atlanta.


By 2019, the City of Atlanta hopes to place 500 chronically homeless people in permanent housing and 300 homeless families in re-housed permanent units; and to prevent 100 families from entering homelessness.   


The City hopes to create 264 new emergency shelter beds and 254 new housing interventions for homeless youth.


“Over the past four years, our efforts have decreased homelessness by more than 50 percent, but we can and must do more,” Mayor Reed said in the press release.


According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the City of Atlanta has decreased the number of unsheltered homeless individuals by 52 percent; the number of chronically homeless individuals by 61 percent; and the number of homeless veterans by 62 percent, since 2013.


However, this is based on point-in-time surveys that vastly and intrinsically undercount the number of homeless people in Atlanta.  Besides relying on shelter censuses, those who carry out these surveys strive to find as many homeless people that they can in known camping or sleeping areas.


But they do not count homeless people sleeping in places that the counters do not know about, because of course many people hide to avoid police harassment.  


They typically don’t count homeless people sleeping on a friend’s couch or in a motel room or in their car, or squatting in an abandoned building.


Marshall Rancifer, founder and Outreach Director of the Justice for All Coalition, said the counters come every two years and count the homeless for only two or maybe three days if the weather is bad and that their count has not been right in the last ten years.


“The homeless count is still high in Atlanta,” Rancifer said.


Additionally, he said police continue to arrest many homeless people for the dozens of minor “Quality of Life” violations like possession of small amounts of cannabis and panhandling that remain on the books despite the introduction of legislation by Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2).


If there is a reported decrease in homelessness, it may be because many of them are in jail, which has become a quasi shelter and service provider.


“When people are arrested, they may have a place to live when they go into jail, but may be homeless when they come out.  That was the case with many of the women we bailed out of jail on Mother’s Day,” Rancifer recalled.


“I don’t know what he is smoking at night, but it’s something delusional,” Anita Beaty, the former Executive Director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said, referring to the Mayor’s comment that homelessness had been cut in half.


“We are having expanded homelessness.  It has increased.  Nobody who lives on the street are going to come out on census night and say you forgot to count me,” Beaty said.


“People are homeless because they lack the resources to pay for housing.  You have people renting and paying up to seventy percent of their income on rent,” she said.


The Task Force for the Homeless shelter on Peachtree and Pine is currently in the process of winding down, and social workers are there to try to find alternative placements for the current residents.


The big question is where will the 900 or more homeless people who depend on that shelter go?   


Many of them are the castaways who other shelters will not take because of mental, physical, and addiction issues.


The Task Force also used to provide refuge to women and children in a separate space from the men’s area.


Several years ago, the Gateway Center again stopped accepting women and children and they sent all the women and children over to the Peachtree and Pine because they would turn no one away without good reason.


“We have had as many as 140 women and children sleeping on mats in the administration areas and conference room.  This number represents the tip of the iceberg of unmet need for women and children,” Beaty said.


They often have had as many as 35 children under the age of eight, living at the shelter.


“The reason you have so many families living in the street is because they refuse to be separated.  There are only three or four shelters in all of Metro Atlanta that take in families,” Rancifer said.


“This [Housing Opportunity Bond] is designed to keep people from worrying about what will happen to the homeless people at Peachtree and Pine,” Beaty said.


The business community considers homeless people bad for business and there is a push to get them out of downtown Atlanta.


“Unless the city is going to close all the church shelters on Peachtree Street, they are not going to get rid of the homeless in downtown,” Rancifer observed.


Rancifer anticipates that seventy percent of the homeless folks will continue to stay around the Peachtree and Pine area because they get food from Cross Roads, Safe House, and the churches around Peachtree Street.


“The places they plan to put these folks don’t have the ability to feed all these folks breakfast and lunch like they are used to getting,” Rancifer said.


APN sent eight questions to the City including where the facilities would be located; who owns the houses and property; and where will they place the 900+ folks being displaced from Peachtree and Pine?  


Three days later, the City responded: “We have determined your questions are premature.”


“That’s because they have no plan, their plan is just trust us,” Beaty told APN.


Beaty predicts that the City and the ADA will put out the word for folks who own property that is vacant to to come forward and be paid by the head–perhaps two hundred dollars–to house homeless men by the week or month.   


“When public interest dies down, they will stop paying the landlords.  The landlords will stop housing and the people experiencing homeless will be out on the street without a Peachtree & Pine to go to,” Beaty predicts.


(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2017)

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