By David Pendered
A shooting death Wednesday following an altercation outside a Downtown Atlanta homeless shelter underscores the dangers facing the region’s homeless youths, whose issues are detailed in a new report from Georgia State University.
On a typical summer month, an estimated 3,374 homeless and runaway youths reside, “on the streets, in shelters, or in other precarious housing situations,” according to the report, Atlanta Youth Count and Needs Assessment. Youth is defined as 14 years to 25 years of age.
The field research was conducted in portions of Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Clayton and Gwinnett counties, and several cities, from May through June, 2015. Eric Wright, a GSU professor of sociology and public health, served as study director – overseeing research conducted by 46 GSU students and 22 community volunteers.
Homeless youths reported a whole host of life traumas – including being robbed, being abused as a child, being exposed to neighborhood violence. Two-thirds have a high likelihood of substance abuse. More than a quarter report symptoms indicative of a serious mental illness. Nearly half reported being sexually abused or being paid to have sex, according to the report. More than a quarter self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
The youths take this life history with them to places where they congregate with others, some of whom may face challenges that are even greater.
The case of the shooting death on Wednesday highlights the volatile nature of some aspects of life as a homeless person in metro Atlanta. At least one of the combatants had some sort of firearm and the willingness to fire it repeatedly at another person on a crowded city street.
The victim suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at Grady Memorial Hospital, said Atlanta police Lt. Charles Hampton, commander of the homicide unit.
“It now appears a verbal argument escalated into the shooting,” Hampton said. “I’m not sure if it started inside. We’re told they were coming from the area and it spilled into the street.”
The victim was in his early 30s, Hampton said. The shooting occurred at about 1:45 p.m.
Police have a suspect in custody. He had a firearm and his clothing matches the description of the shooter provided to the police by folks outside the homeless shelter, located at the intersection of Peachtree and Pine streets.
The suspect was apprehended along Peachtree Street by security officers with Emory University Hospital Midtown. The hospital campus is located across Peachtree Street from the homeless shelter.
Hampton said it’s not clear if one or both of the combatants were residing at the homeless shelter.
This is the environment that youths encounter when they join the region’s population of homeless. They land there for any number of reasons, including:
- Financial problems – 46.1 percent;
- Job problems – 32.3 percent;
- Family violence problems – 28.2 percent;
- Being kicked out of home – 24.2 percent;
- Housing problems – 23.7 percent.
The idea for such a comprehensive report was suggested by members of the Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth (ACFLY), including Emily Brown, the group’s facilitator.
Financial and in-kind support came from GSU; Street Grace and YouthSpark; Rollins School of Public Health, Center for AIDS Research, and Emory University’s Program for Research and Intervention in Seual Minority Health; and Morehouse School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics
The effort attracted 24 participating organizations including Atlanta police and schools; Fulton County schools; United Way; Salvation Army; Mercy Care; CHRIS Kids; Gateway Center and Covenant House Georgia.