In the course of researching this story and speaking with experts whose work touches many facets of homelessness, we learned a great deal. Here are five takeaways that resonated with our team:
1. It’s a citywide issue that is not confined to any one district or neighborhood.
In Atlanta, coordination and resources are spread across many different groups: faith community, nonprofits, shelters, medical facilities, public safety, philanthropic efforts, the City of Atlanta, improvement districts and other organizations. The annual "point-in-time" count is a helpful benchmark but it is only approximate, and the methodology has been picked apart in media stories.
2. When Peachtree-Pine closed, most people staying there transitioned to housing.
The 2017 closure of the Peachtree-Pine shelter was necessary because the facility was not being managed well, and it was unsafe to continue operations. Each resident at the shelter was offered wrap-around services to help them transition to a new living arrangement. While most accepted this help, some did not. Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) and community partners successfully transitioned 196 shelter residents into permanent housing.
3. Being homeless is not against the law.
The City of Atlanta’s ordinance on “Urban Camping and Improper Use of Public Spaces” (Sec. 106-12) explains that blocking the public right of way by sitting or lying down is unlawful, but that no person can be arrested without having first been warned by APD. First Amendment protections generally permit behaving in any fashion while on public property that is not deemed an imminent threat to persons or property. However if someone is on private property without authorization to be there, then criminal trespass laws can be enforced.
4. Getting a homeless person to accept help can take a long time.
In many cases, people experiencing homelessness decline offers to stay in shelters or receive medical treatment because they do not want to accept limitations on their freedom (mandatory curfews, medical testing, limits on possessions, etc). It can take an average of 15+ encounters with a person experiencing homelessness — over many months — before enough trust is established to where they are willing to accept support services.
5. Each person’s situation is different.
Many are battling mental illness. Others addiction to controlled substances. Some are military veterans. Others are survivors of domestic abuse. Midtown Blue public safety officers know many of the homeless in Midtown by name, what their issues are, what types of social services to offer and where they spend time. There is also a forgotten population of working homeless in Atlanta recently profiled in this in-depth story in The New Republic.