Editors note: This story is part of an ongoing series on the issue of homelessness in Midtown. It was originally published in October 2020. See our most recent installment here.
Credit: Georgia State University
The HomeFirst initiative's goal is to add 1,000 permanent supportive housing units in the City of Atlanta. As of this article's original run date of September 2019, 200 units were online and another 350 were in development.
Cathryn Marchman heads up Partners for HOME, a nonprofit that works on behalf of 100+ organizations that comprise Atlanta’s Homeless Continuum of Care. She directs the HomeFirst initiative, which includes outreach and housing. In recent years, she said the City of Atlanta has changed the way it addresses the issue of homelessness over recent years, with an increasing focus on permanent housing.
“We historically have spent a majority on crisis response and less on permanent housing solutions, so the very thing that would end [homelessness],” she said during an August 2019 interview. “That’s the focus of HomeFirst.”
Objective: Aligning Sustainable Investment for New Housing
Marchman’s program is currently focused on completing a pipeline of supportive housing. Currently 200 units have been approved, with 350 units coming in the next two to three years using funds pledged through HomeFirst.
“For much of this underway, we’re looking to identify sustainable revenue streams to continue these programs,” she said. “In the past, we’ve struggled to create state and local investments in homelessness, because we can’t just rely on what we get from the federal government. That’s the third leg of the stool, leveraging all existing resources and lining up new investments along the way.”
Planning for Future Needs a Moving Target
The homeless population is dynamic and has many subcategories, including youth, veterans, families and the chronically homeless, which describes people who have been homeless for at least a year (or repeatedly) and are struggling with a disabling condition such as a mental illness, substance abuse or a physical disability. Marchman said it’s tough to say whether the City of Atlanta has enough resources to address current needs.
“The population is constantly changing, and we will never have a solution for every single person that touches our system,” Marchman said.
Realities and Scale Differ Widely Among Cities
Atlanta has far fewer homeless than many other cities, with the New York City Coalition For the Homeless estimating the city has 78,000 and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimating almost 50,000 in the area. Why is the situation different here? Marchman said a big reason for this could be Atlanta’s relatively affordable cost of living compared to these cities — though that could change as affordable housing in the city continues to decline.
“I think we’re definitely at a crossroads,” she said. “I think the more we lose affordable housing, which seems to be happening every day, the less we’ll be able to get a handle on keeping our numbers down, and there’s only so much we can do in a crisis response system. Our hands are full with the population now.”
Partners For HOME Spearheads Temporary Housing Effort During Pandemic
Marchman and her partners remained busier than ever during the pandemic. Using funds provided by both the city and philanthropic efforts, Partners for HOME opened two temporarily shuttered hotels Downtown to help keep unsheltered people safe from COVID-19. One hotel was for people who have tested positive for COVID-19, and the other was for people who are over 65 or have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to it. Read more here.
- Follow HomeFirst's progress and learn more about its funding.