This story originally appeared in September 2019 as part of our “Untangling Homelessness” series. We reached out to partners during the COVID-19 pandemic to see what they’re currently doing. See our update here.
It takes an average of nine to 15 interactions for homeless people to accept help —McClendon said it took about six months of interactions for people she encountered to believe she wanted to help them.
Several years before the HomeFirst initiative launched in Midtown, Midtown Blue Public Safety Officer Kristian McClendon led an effort to build an outreach program from scratch in order to do more to help homeless people she was seeing on the streets while patrolling the district.
“Dealing with the homeless on a daily basis, I would ask, ‘Why do we keep dealing with the same people? Who does outreach for Midtown?” said McClendon, who served in the United States Army as a Transportation Officer for eight years before joining Midtown Blue.
The DIY Approach to Finding Solutions
Finding few existing resources within the Midtown district footprint, McClendon set out to conduct her own research, which included site visits to shelters that included Atlanta Mission, Shepherd’s Inn and City of Refuge. She vetted, compiled and established relationships with a list of service providers touching many facets of the issue, including crisis intervention and medical training.
Midtown Blue’s team of a dozen public safety officers engaged learned from subject matter experts how to de-escalate potential conflict, and McClendon learned about the range of mental illnesses she was likely to encounter on patrol, interacting with homeless people and others.
“At first, all [Midtown Blue] was doing was waking them up, and our goal was to get them more acquainted with us and having them trust us so they would listen to our information, take action and get help,” she said.
Getting People to Accept Help Takes Persistence
It takes an average of nine to 15 interactions for homeless people to accept help —McClendon said it took about six months of interactions for people she encountered to believe she wanted to help them. But there is no law on the books that requires a homeless person to accept offers for help.
“A lot of them make comments along the lines of, ‘I’ve been down this road, and it’s always a dead end,’” she said.
McClendon is especially dedicated to finding Midtown’s homeless permanent housing because growing up, she spent time living in shelters with her family.
“I've experienced it firsthand, so when some homeless people say some shelters are dangerous, I definitely understand what they're saying,” she said.
Midtown Blue Ramps up Homeless Outreach Training During COVID-19
Due to what appears to be an increase in the population of people experiencing homelessness since the pandemic began in the United States in mid-March, all of other McClendon's fellow public safety officers have begun training on how to better connect with unsheltered people they meet on the street, with the goal of having more people accept help and find housing and jobs. Read more here.
- If you see someone in distress, first dial 911, then call Midtown Blue at 404-817-0500