Atlanta City Council District 4 would be Nick Hess’ first elected office. He’s worked with an all-volunteer homelessness nonprofit called The Mad Housers for about 20 years, and has been running it for about 15, while also juggling work and family. The group is perhaps best known for constructing in basic temporary shelters for homeless folks. He spoke to Saporta Report via email.
Q: What’s your No. 1 concern for your district specifically?
A: My No. 1 concern is the level of poverty in my district and all of the attendant problems attached to it — disenfranchisement, lack of opportunity, homelessness, hunger and health issues, crime, and so forth.
Q: What could you do as a Council member about that?
A: There’s plenty that we can do in the Council to encourage investment, promote affordability, and encourage healthy outcomes.
I specifically want to address disenfranchisement — disengagement and distrust hamper our ability as a community to equitably address the issues. I plan to make it easier for all members of our community to discover the tools we have to engage with the city; make it easier to work with NPU [neighborhood planning unit] meetings, the most basic level of civic engagement; and to create a participatory budgeting program in my district using my own discretionary fund as seed money. I think that once we create pathways to engagement and show results, we can pull together the entire community to benefit the entire community.
I also have a great deal of experience with homelessness issues. I will work to see how we can simplify the process of regaining identification for homeless and ex-homeless; once you’ve lost your ID, it becomes very difficult to engage in legitimate economic activity or create the kind of stability you need to rebuild your life.
Q: What’s an uncomfortable truth the next Council needs to face?
We have a bad habit of papering over and ignoring our problem areas. That’s understandable; all the easy problems have already been solved, but simply renaming a problem street does not make its problems go away. Our low-income areas need systemic approaches that combine investment, enforcement, and engagement.
Q: What’s something Council has gotten right in the last four to eight years?
A: Our balance sheet looks very good, and the Council should be commended for it, especially given the challenging economic conditions of the Great Recession.
Q: What’s something council has gotten wrong or failed to do in the last 4-8 years?
A: The Streetcar project should have been rethought once it became apparent that it wasn’t possible to connect enough areas to make it useful. It’s now an expensive toy hoping to become relevant.
Q: Bottom line, overall, why should people vote for you? What’s your pitch to the voters?
A: Our district spans a large area and different communities representing many disparate, yet legitimate, interests. My experience, personal, professional, and civic, has led me to respectfully and successfully work with people from all walks of life. I am the candidate that can help District 4 navigate its challenges in partnership with all of its citizens.