Atlanta's homelessness initiative part of national trend of cities leading such efforts
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a typographical error in the first paragraph.
By David Pendered
The $50 million initiative to combat longterm homelessness that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced Thursday comes at a time the nation is recognizing the role of mayors in addressing homelessness.
The executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released a statement the same day commending the efforts by mayors of 36 cities across three states. Matthew Doherty, the executive director, observed:
- "[M]ayors across the country are wrestling with the very toughest issues facing their communities, including the challenges of unsheltered homelessness and encampments; mayors are undaunted and have made solving these challenges a key focus of their leadership; and their leadership has created an unprecedented opportunity for progress and success in ending homelessness within our country."
Doherty's remarks were focused on homeless veterans. Reed noted that Atlanta has achieved significant success in helping homeless vets find housing. Reed's prepared remarks for his State of the City address read:
- "Since the year 2013, we have seen a 52 percent decrease in the number of unsheltered homeless individuals; a 61 percent decrease in the number of chronically homeless individuals; and a 62 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans in our City.
- "We accepted President Obama's challenge to end homelessness for veterans, because we believe that if you have served our country – put your life on the line for this country – you deserve a place to call home that's yours.
- "I'm proud to tell you today that we have permanently housed more than 1,000 veterans who have put their lives on the line for the United States of America. We have reduced homelessness for our veterans to functional zero in the City of Atlanta."
Reed used the bully pulpit of his final State of the City address to announce a new partnership with the United Way of Greater Atlanta. Atlanta will provide $25 million and United Way will match it with an additional $25 million.
Reed did not provide details about the source of city funds, the program's administration, or timeline. The website of United Way of Greater Atlanta doesn't appear to provide additional information.
Doherty's statement identified four reasons that mayors are uniquely positioned to address homelessness:
- "Mayors can continue to prioritize local data gathering and strong accountability to outcomes;
- "Mayors and other local officials can mobilize resources and efforts behind a shared vision;
- "Mayors can promote deeper partnerships among sectors and people that haven't historically worked closely together;
- "Mayors can help identify local barriers to housing development and work to reduce them."
Regarding public funding for the program Reed announced, former Mayor Shirley Franklin said in September 2016 that Atlanta does have a source of funds to help create affordable housing.
Franklin said Atlanta could raise about $40 million every four years by selling a housing bond. The bond would be repaid from the city's general funds. Nothing in state law or city code prevents such a disbursal for such a purpose, Franklin said.
Franklin did not speak to the possibility of using such funds to fund a homelessness program. Franklin did say the money could be spent on, "mixed income housing, housing incentives, holistic community redevelopment. … "The only thing that separates us from these incentives is the will to do it."
Franklin raised the issue as she accepted the Maynard H. Jackson award from Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc. ANDP was incorporated during Jackson's third term.
Note to readers: Pendered serves on ANDP's One Home Makes a Difference advisory board.