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Atlanta’s homelessness initiative part of national trend of cities leading such efforts

David Pendered
homeless gather in downtown atlanta

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.

homeless gather in downtown atlanta

Atlanta and the United Way of Greater Atlanta have embarked on a $50 million program to make homelessness in Atlanta, “brief and rare,” according to Mayor Kasim Reed. Photo of the Coco-Cola Place tunnel, beneath the Downtown Connector, taken in January 2016. File/Credit: Kimberly Krautter

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.
    Milton Little Jack Hardin

    United Way’s Milton Little with attorney Jack Hardin at the Mayor’s 2017 Business Breakfast File/Credit: Maria Saporta

  • “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;
    Matthew Doherty

    Matthew Doherty

  • “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.

David Pendered
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. Avatar
    Susan Varlamoff February 20, 2017 6:59 am

    Good article and I am very pleased to see this issue addressed. So many of these people on the streets have mental health issues which must be dealt with.




  2. Avatar
    Burroughston Broch February 20, 2017 7:27 am

    We must first care for our homeless citizens and mentally disturbed citizens before we spend anything on refugees and illegal immigrants.




  3. Avatar
    Bri June 12, 2017 5:04 pm

    It is really hard to find information about the initiative. I plan to reach out to United Way of Greater Atlanta to get more information. I would love to be a part of it.





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