Homing in on Programs to Help Address Homelessness in Buckhead
By Jim Durrett, President of the Buckhead Coalition and Executive Director of the Buckhead CID, and Adam Mathes, President of Prime Power Services and Chair of Buckhead Coalition Committee on Homelessness
Several times every month, we are asked essentially the same questions by individuals from all walks of life: “Can’t you do something about the homeless in/at (fill in the blank)?”
These questions arise when people see others experiencing homelessness on sidewalks, in doorways or in parks, and are concerned about real or perceived impacts on the quality of life or safety of customers, residents or employees. They come with the proliferation of tent encampments around Atlanta and the understanding of how those encampments have become problems in other U.S. cities. But they also come when people don’t know what can be done to help those who clearly need assistance.
The Buckhead Coalition’s Committee on Homelessness was created first to learn about homelessness in Buckhead and Atlanta, and then prepare to work alongside and amplify the efforts of the region’s homeless and housing service organizations. The objective is to help relieve suffering of our neighbors experiencing homelessness and strengthen bonds in our Buckhead community. The committee is comprised of Coalition members who care about those living on the streets and who throughout the year give their time, money and attention to issues of housing and homelessness.
To achieve our mission, the group has worked alongside BCM Georgia in their efforts to keep people housed and with Lost-n-Found Youth to care for, and support, LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. Our work is informed by the “housing first” principles championed by the Atlanta Gateway Center and Partners for HOME with the aim to “ensure homelessness is prevented whenever possible” and to make it “a rare, brief and nonrecurring experience.” The committee is also preparing to work with the MARTA HOPE program and Frontline Response (formerly the Atlanta Dream Center) to help move people off the streets and, in the case of Frontline Response, out of sex trafficking. These are only a few of the many excellent Atlanta-area organizations working tirelessly to end homelessness in our communities.
Here is a little of what we have learned:
- Homelessness is a complex challenge that requires humility and patience from those who contend with it.
- According to the annual point in time count, the number of people experiencing homelessness (sheltered and unsheltered) in Atlanta appears to have actually decreased nearly 40% from 2020 to 2022 (from 3,240 to 2,017).
- A reason you might find that last point hard to believe is that tent encampments, which are more visible, have increased, in part because more tents are being donated to the unsheltered.
- The causes of homelessness are numerous, from mental illness or substance abuse to fleeing domestic abuse or losing a job and not having the resources to remain housed.
Last year, the Buckhead Rotary Club, the Buckhead Coalition, Livable Buckhead and students from the Atlanta International School came together to help those dealing with homelessness. Together, the organizations raised over $2,000 in funding and donations which was used to assemble more than 100 “necessity kits” which were distributed throughout our community by partners at Lost-n-Found Youth and Frontline Response. To build on the success of the event, the organizations will meet again on October 3 with the same goals in mind.
Like all complex social issues, a community-wide partnership is necessary to get to the root of homelessness. We must focus on support services, housing and employment opportunities for the most vulnerable. Reducing homelessness can also help solve other social problems such as childhood education issues, food insecurity, substance abuse and public safety.
Jeff Parker, the late General Manager and CEO of MARTA, once said, “We won’t tolerate criminal behavior, but homelessness is not a crime.” We agree and we hope to continue to do more to help those organizations and institutions which are doing the hard work to keep people in their homes and to engage and assist people in need of shelter.