What the closing of Atlanta’s largest shelter means for our homeless population
By Dan Williams, program officer, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Recently, while riding MARTA to work, I sat across from a woman appearing to experience mental illness. The sound of her shrill laugh permeated the train car as she raised her arms wildly in the air. Her wide-open, ragged roller bag, obviously too difficult to zip alone, exposed what likely was every bit of clothing she owned. Without saying a word, two polite strangers on the train worked together to zip the bag shut so that her personal belongings would not be strewn across the platform as she exited the train.
How many times have you noticed a person experiencing homelessness in our community or perhaps stopped to offer them a helping hand? Each day while driving into downtown on the Juniper/Courtland corridor or driving on Peachtree Street at the intersection of Pine Street, we would see dozens of people congregated around the Peachtree-Pine Homeless Shelter, which is slated to close. While this shelter has had its challenges throughout the years, my personal experiences make me wonder what these folks will do and where they will go when it finally closes its doors? How will we as a community come together to connect the passion of our citizenry with the purpose of ending homelessness in our region?
As of September 1, Atlanta’s Peachtree-Pine Homeless Shelter, a “low-barrier” shelter, stopped accepting newcomers. Hundreds of persons experiencing homelessness will have to find a more permanent bed of their own. Low-barrier shelters accept people as they are and provide a safe place to spend the night when they have no other options. Many people who stay in low-barrier shelters are chronically homeless, lack regular access to nutritious food and suffer from physical and mental illness, drug addiction and other chronic diseases.
Many organizations are working on the gradual closing of the shelter and it will operate until all who currently stay there are provided with access to the resources and care they need.
United Way’s Regional Commission on Homelessness (RCOH) will oversee the facility with assistance from several government agencies and nonprofit groups. In addition, Partners for HOME, a public-private partnership that the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta helped establish, is bringing resources together to create and implement a collective strategic plan called Atlanta’s Continuum of Care.
The City of Atlanta is contributing up to $25 million with a challenge to the private sector to raise $25 million in matching funds to invest in proven programs that are most effective in addressing homelessness in metro Atlanta. RCOH has instituted the HomeStretch Program to help identify programs that will serve some of our most disenfranchised citizens. These programs will help ensure that supportive housing units are developed, provide care for those experiencing physical or mental health issues, enable transportation options and links between housing and jobs and coordinate outreach among trained case management workers.
Issues around homelessness are often complex and there are many strong organizations working throughout our region to become catalysts for solutions. To learn more please visit our blog.