A man sleeping across the street from the now-closed Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter. Credit: savedliferide.wordpress.com
By Sean Keenan
Atlanta’s $50 million Home First program—now fully funded, thanks to a $114,000 gift from Ameris Bank—endeavors to create 550 much-needed units of permanent supportive housing for the city’s chronically homeless and other marginalized people.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the final donation last month and said the initiative, spearheaded by nonprofit Partners for HOME, should help reduce the city’s homeless population from the recent 3,217-person tally.
Even though Atlanta’s homeless population has reportedly dropped by some 50 percent over the last decade, 3,217 is still too many, Bottoms said at an August 21 press conference.
The 550 new units, which will largely come in the form of apartments, won’t completely solve Atlanta’s chronic homeless problem, of course. However, Partners for HOME Executive Director Cathryn Marchman told Saporta Report the funding will also help Home First strengthen its initiatives to reach those it can’t immediately house.
The $50 million program will help further many of the nonprofit’s long-term goals, which includes, among other aspirations, curbing the amount of homeless youths, families and veterans by providing low-barrier shelters, rapid rehousing services and other help for Atlanta’s less fortunate, Marchman said.
The new permanent supportive housing units, which will span what Marchman considers “a good diversity of geography,” from the affluent Eastside to the budding Westside, will be used to shelter Atlanta’s most vulnerable citizens for as long as they need.
“Generally, folks stay in PSH for a minimum of at least a year, but many of them stay much longer than that,” Marchman said.
The growing program also represents a bit of a departure from the way local organizations typically do things, Marchman added.
“About 75 percent of the current investments in our community are funding the crisis response system: shelter, transitional housing, soup kitchens, services, everything that a client needs when they’re in homelessness,” she said. “Only 25 percent of our money is being spent on permanent housing investments, the one thing that would end a person’s homelessness.”
With this program, getting people in need into permanent housing is top of the docket, hence the name, Home First.
But convincing people on the streets to utilize the services afforded them is another hurdle altogether. In many cases, it can take numerous interactions to get them to avail themselves to help.
“On average, it was taking upwards of nine encounters with the same individual before they’re even interested and willing to talk about housing options and interventions,” Marchman said. “It really is a long game.”
Once those people are eligible to be placed in a PSH unit, they’re not forced into any particular home; they can turn down a location “if they don’t like the neighborhood or the property,” and they’ll be placed right back atop the waiting list, she said.
Oftentimes, Partners for HOME witnesses what Marchman called “trickle-down results,” meaning once-homeless people will “tell their buddies” about their experience and get those people to trust the system they’d otherwise be skeptical of.
Atlanta’s housing authority is subsidizing the 550 new supportive housing units, and Fulton County is going to provide supportive services. The first of those units are slated to go online on the Westside as soon as October, she said.
Additionally, well-known developers of affordable housing, such as Columbia Residential and Mercy Housing have already been approved to provide some of the upcoming units, Marchman said. Other developers’ applications are pending.