Local Governments And Groups In Georgia Are Working To Help The State’s Homeless People


An audit showed that a statewide council might be needed to make sure that the 4.4% increase in Georgia’s homeless population from 2020 is dealt with in an organized way. Images by J.D. Pooley and Getty

Every year, during the last 10 days of January, thousands of people gather in Georgia and across the country to take part in the yearly homeless census. This data is used to guide legislative, funding, and support efforts. The Point-in-Time number is the most complete count of people who are housed or not housed.

According to the report from last year, the number of homeless people in the United States rose by 12% from 2022 to 2023. With just over 653,000 people, this was the biggest number of homeless people since the first count in 2007. Even though the number of homeless people in Georgia hit a national record high in 2023, it is 37% lower than it was in 2007.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 62 into law in March of last year. It says that cities and counties must police bans on camping in public places and look over how much they spend on helping homeless people.

The report showed that a statewide council might be needed to make sure that Georgia’s 4.4% increase in homeless people from 2020 is dealt with in a coordinated way. The federal government spent about $549 million in Georgia from 2018 to 2022. Georgia would join 33 other states and Washington, D.C. if the plan is put into action. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs is in charge of housing in the state, but its main job is to manage federal and state funds, which includes making strategies and focusing on the best ways to help people.

As part of the Rural Workforce Housing Initiative, Kemp announced that four towns would get $9 million for new homes and the infrastructure they need. The cities of Alma and Vidalia, as well as the Development Authority of Donalsonville and Seminole County, each got about $2.5 million. The Dalton-Whitfield County Joint Development Authority got about $1.5 million. It is estimated that the project will add 400 more homes.

As part of the United Way of Central Georgia’s plan to end homelessness, Macon started working to make sure that everyone was working together to help the homeless. Jake Hall, the executive director, said that the new smartphone app Show the Way will be a “decentralized case management tool” because it will make people think about their own health and how easy it is to get services.

“We can only help people who are homeless if we have accurate local data,” Hall said. “And that we’re working on ways to use federal money at the local level that will help make a difference.”

First responders can also use the app to find out where people are camping, but it’s not clear how this information will change if public camping bans are made stricter. It is also believed that Show the Way will make future headcounts easier.

Just before this year’s count at the end of January, the cities of Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County each announced budgets of about $5 million to help pay for programs that help homeless people. This was done because the 2023 counts showed that the number of homeless people in those areas rose by 1.3%, both those who were living in shelters and those who were not. Some people are protected homeless if they don’t have a safe place to sleep at night.

Of that $5 million, Athens-Clarke County set aside $2.83 million to fund proposals from groups for supportive services for the homeless, activities for the homeless who don’t have a place to stay and building low-barrier shelters. These proposals will be taken until March 8. The ideas are the first step in the county’s plan to reduce and stop homelessness.

On February 22, the office of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens confirmed two plans that aim to ease ongoing safety worries. One will put in place the statewide ban on public camping, and the city will clear 10 to 20 bridges where homeless people who are looking for cover set fires to stay warm. Authorities think that these camps are to blame for the fires on Cheshire Bridge Road, which have shut down the road twice in the last two years for more than two weeks each time. Under the other plan, the Atlanta City Council’s plan to limit entry to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport while homeless people seek shelter in the airport’s atrium will be put into action.

The official office of the mayor said that the Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center in Midtown Atlanta will be used as a temporary shelter for at least 180 days. Hall says that similar efforts in the past have not been able to provide an option to clearing encampments, which makes the problem worse.

“Some communities don’t want to admit they have a problem helping people who are homeless, or they don’t want to put a lot of money into services for the homeless, sometimes because they’re afraid that it will attract more people,” Hall said. “And I think all of those are wrong ways to deal with the needs of people around us.”

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