Atlanta homelessness and hunger nonprofits join forcesHOPE Atlanta MARTA Outreach (Credit: HOPE Atlanta)
By Hannah Elise Jones
The two organizations have united under HOPE Atlanta’s name. CEO Jeff Smythe said the decision made “so much sense” because the organizations had similar goals and communities that they served.
“Why not join forces? What we’re already seeing is [we can] reduce that overhead, that administrative side of things, and really focus more on the dramatic need, particularly right now,” Smythe said.
HOPE Atlanta, founded in 1900, supports people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, including specialized services for veterans and those living with HIV/AIDS.
Action Ministries, founded in 1963, focuses on fighting food insecurity. Programs like Smart Lunch Smart Kid, Super Packs and Feed the Hungry Food Boxes distribute over 2 million meals annually throughout Georgia.
This service is especially crucial in Georgia, where one in five children suffer from food insecurity in urban areas and one in three in rural regions, according to Action Ministries.
Although the need for homelessness and hunger prevention was prevalent before the pandemic, since COVID-19 hit, the demand for hunger relief has increased by 70 percent and tripled for housing assistance, according Smythe.
As the two organizations join forces, their individual hunger and homelessness programs will stay in effect. The newly unified HOPE Atlanta aims to assist 11,000 individuals with housing assistance or hunger relief this year.
The organization’s Re-Housing program — which covers the down payments and rent for those experiencing homelessness — is especially crucial for homeless residents amid the pandemic. Smythe recalls this time last year when the pandemic began to disrupt life in the U.S., and upwards of 300 people a day were visiting the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for shelter.
During that time, the HOPE Atlanta team worked tirelessly to help find shelter for Atlanta’s homeless citizens and advocated for the city to help solve the problem.
Through its work with Fulton and DeKalb County and the City of Atlanta, the organization housed 500 people in permanent or temporary residences.
“I’m really proud of the team working around the clock, finding housing solutions, finding hotel solutions and just staying by so many who just felt like they had nowhere to go,” Smythe said. “That’s a critical moment, in my opinion, where we were able to really jump with both feet.”
Aside from additional stressors introduced by the pandemic, Smythe points to a lack of affordable housing, systemic racism within housing policies and stigmatization of mental health as root causes of the homelessness epidemic.
He adds that awareness of unfair housing systems is key and hopes that fellow Georgians will use their knowledge to advocate for policies that encourage prosperity and sustainable communities.
In some ways, the pandemic has taught the general public what the folks at HOPE Atlanta already knew — no one is immune to homelessness.
“It’s sometimes easier for us to kind of vilify someone who’s experiencing homelessness, that they didn’t do the right things,” Smythe said. “When the reality is, we’re all probably one emergency away from falling into homelessness.”