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Atlanta may make it easier to expand existing homeless shelters

Homeless in Atlanta

A proposal in Atlanta aims to make it easier to expand shelters for the homeless, such as this camp near Northside Drive. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By David Pendered

A proposal now making the rounds of Atlanta’s neighborhood planning units says Atlanta has a growing number of people in homeless families and the city should make it easier to expand existing facilities – provided operators get a special use permit from the city.

Homeless in Atlanta

A proposal in Atlanta aims to make it easier to expand shelters for the homeless, such as those who stay in this camp near Northside Drive. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Atlanta City Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr. introduced the legislation. His proposal would eliminate two requirements related to the distance between a homeless shelter and other land uses.

Young said Wednesday that the purpose is to enable the expansion of existing shelters that are embraced by folks in their immediate vicinity.

“Now those facilities have difficulties getting permits,” Young said. “The idea is to enhance their ability to do that. Most existing facilities operate with the blessings and support of surrounding facilities. Not many are en bad relations.”

A fact sheet traveling with the proposal makes the following argument as to why the city should relax restrictions on the expansion of existing homeless shelters:

  • “On any night there are an estimated 7,000 homeless people in metro Atlanta, of that 2,000 are unsheltered and on the streets, and 1,300 are homeless families.
  • “The number of people in homeless families is on the rise, making up one-fifth of the local homeless population. Shelters are increasingly no longer transient, one night one bed facilities, but offer more comprehensive supportive services.
  • “Additionally, shelters are no longer the 500-bed dormitory style facilities but are smaller shelters that house people first and then assess their needs rather than set restrictions before someone is admitted.”

Ivory Lee Young, Jr.

The Atlanta city code specifically prohibits the expansion of a homeless shelter that fails to meet two requirements related to distance.

The first requirement to be eliminated says a homeless shelter may not be located within 2,000 feet of the following types of care-giving facilities:

  • “[P]ersonal care home, assisted living facility, nursing home, rehabilitation center, supportive housing facility, or other shelter, whether publicly or privately owned and/or operated.”

The second requirement to be eliminated requires homeless shelters to be within 1,500 feet of a “public transportation station or transit stop.”

These two provisions are defined in the city’s code of ordinances, in the land development code. Young’s proposal would remove the prohibitions, provided that the shelter’s operator obtain a special use permit from the city. Obtaining such a permit is a documented, very public process that’s handled by the city’s planning department until the request reaches the Atlanta City Council.

The process includes the operator making a presentation to the appropriate NPU. The NPU will provide an advisory recommendation to the city’s Zoning Review Board. The ZRB members vote on a recommendation and refer the matter to the Atlanta City Council’s Zoning Committee. The next step is a vote by the full council.

The current schedule for Young’s legislation calls for the ZRB to consider the matter May 3 or May 10, make a recommendation to adopt or reject, and send the matter forward to the council’s Zoning Committee. The council could vote on the proposal as early as June.



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. JDJ April 4, 2018 4:12 pm

    Additional housing is great, but what about working towards a long term solution to get folks off the streets for good!! You only have to read the stories from San Francisco and Seattle to see where we are headed, if the city, county and state don’t work to find viable solutions!Report

  2. June Ann April 6, 2018 11:50 am

    Stop showing off Atlanta’s homeless and give them housing. Remove the prohibitions that hinder descent living for all humans, period. These prohibitions were created for what reasons? To hide the homeless? No, create housing so they are off the streets is by far a more “common sense” and “humanitarian” approach.Report


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