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Sustainable Communities Thought Leadership

No Address in Georgia: Not Just Atlanta

Homelessness is a crisis in many Georgia communities: urban, suburban, and rural. Local, state, and federal governments, the philanthropic community, faith-based institutions, community leaders, grassroots citizens and those with lived-experience of housing insecurity are all needed to develop strategies and implement solutions to homelessness.

Recently, I had the privilege to view the award-winning documentary: No Address: A Two-Part Documentary Series, directed by Carlotta Harris, which spotlights criminalization of the unsheltered and solutions to end homelessness. The documentary takes viewers through the announcement of Atlanta’s selection to host the 1996 Olympics through today and the impact of COVID for those who are unsheltered. As a South Georgia native, I recall being thrilled to hear that Atlanta would be the site for the 1996 Olympics. Although, I was working in a sewing factory in rural Georgia, I understood that this investment would be a boom to not only Atlanta’s economy, but to Georgia’s economy. My dream was to partake in the land of economic prosperity for Black and Brown people in Atlanta. Therefore, in 2001, my family and I took part in the “Great Migration” from rural South Georgia to Metro Atlanta.

As I settled in to Metro Atlanta and begin working for a nonprofit housing agency, I became involved in civic organizations. One of our community services projects was to volunteer weekly at “Peachtree and Pine.” Owned and managed by the Task Force for the Homeless, Peachtree and Pine was the first time that I became aware of a ‘no barrier’ shelter (anyone who needed shelter could obtain shelter). While watching No Address Atlanta, I recalled many conversations that I had with Peachtree and Pine’s residents and advocates on how Atlanta’s unsheltered were given one-way bus tickets to leave before the ’96 Olympics as well as the Atlanta Detention Center becoming a ‘make-shift’ shelter for many in the unsheltered population. I continued to volunteer at Peachtree and Pine for many years. 

In 2013, I began to experience my own housing insecurity due to the economic downturn in the housing industry. Navigating Metro Atlanta’s homelessness resources was like an intricate maze of endless intake, applications, requirements, and restrictions (including not allowing my teenage son in a shelter with his family because he was ‘too old’). After relocating back to my ‘safety net’ of South Georgia, I quickly discovered that the safety net was broken. No emergency shelters. No governmental or nonprofit resources. It was through the generosity of people in the community that allowed me to couch-surf or ‘pallet-on-the-floor’ surf and donations for my youngest son (who was born while we were housing insecure) that I began to get back on my feet and public housing became my stabilizing factor.

In 2017, I learned that the Peachtree and Pine shelter would close after a long hard legal battle. I actually mourned the loss of Peachtree and Pine. Having volunteered at the shelter, later experiencing housing insecurity, recognizing that Atlanta was not the same ‘affordable’ city, and the NIMBY-ism of those who have housing choice vouchers, I wondered where Peachtree and Pine’s residents would go. It felt very ’96 Olympic-ish.

As I travel around the state and work with several cities and towns, I quickly discovered that homelessness is not just an “Atlanta” issue. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how vulnerable low-income and BIPOC communities are for homelessness. Despite a federal eviction moratorium and later, federal emergency rental assistance funding, low-income, BIPOC communities in Georgia are still at significant risk of homelessness, including rural Georgia. For the month of June 2022, Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County had over 300 eviction filings. Valdosta-Lowndes County had over 417 intents to evict. Local advocates attribute these high eviction filings to the slow deployment of emergency rental assistance to rural communities. As the documentary No Address Atlanta, revealed unsheltered individuals who died of exposure, rural housing advocates revealed that an unsheltered lady, who made an encampment under a tree, died after a tree limb fell on top of her.

It is imperative that stakeholders create viable solutions to homelessness. Housing First is a model that provides stable, affordable, and accessible housing to people experiencing homelessness quickly and without prerequisites, and voluntary supportive services are offered to help improve housing stability and well-being.

Other solutions include:
  • universal housing vouchers for every eligible household
  • protection of state and federal low income housing tax credits
  • housing trust funds with dedicated sources of revenue
  • tiny home communities
  • robust financial set-asides for nonprofit affordable housing developers
  • source of income as a protected class in fair housing
  • notice and right to cure where landlords are required to give renters written notice and a certain number of days to ‘cure’ their default before filing eviction
  • rent caps
  • low-barrier entry and coordinated entry for housing assistance
  • political will to make homelessness and housing insecurity a priority.

Despite these solutions to address homelessness and aid the housing insecure, agencies who do the ‘front line, on-the-ground’ work are often left out of the housing solution conversation and if they are included, these trusted agencies are woefully underfunded in favor of large well-known organizations. Additionally, if individuals with lived experience housing insecurity are invited to the table, their input is often undervalued, dismissed or their input is used by consultants and non-frontline agencies, without adequate compensation for their time and expertise. Therefore, we need to broaden the solution table and ensure equitable and robust resources for front-line agencies that aid the housing insecure and homelessness. Once people are stably housed, they are better able to use services to support housing stability, employment, education and health. To view No Address: A Two-Part Documentary Series, visit https://www.noaddressdocumentary.com/

Dr. Bambie Hayes-Brown is the President and CEO of Georgia Advancing Communities Together, Inc. and has lived experience of housing insecurity. For more information on Georgia ACT, visit www.georgiaact.org. Save the Date: Georgia ACT Annual Fall Affordable Housing Conference, October 11 and 12, 2022, Atlanta Metropolitan State College

 

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