BY ELLIE HENSLEY
One of the questions we hear most frequently at Midtown Alliance is, “what is being done to get people off the streets who are experiencing homelessness?”
There are a number of groups and individuals hard at work on this issue, including churches, businesses, nonprofits and the City of Atlanta. Midtown Blue, the supplemental program run by Midtown Alliance for 20-plus years in the district, created a homeless outreach program from the ground up. And in 2022, Midtown Alliance redoubled its efforts by partnering with Intown Collaborative Ministries (ICM) to hire a case manager who works full-time in the district and whose role is dedicated to helping people experiencing homelessness in the district.
Nine months into the partnership, what progress has been made?
We caught up with ICM Executive Director Brad Schweers and Midtown Blue Public Safety Officer Kristian McClendon to find out.
Hitting the Ground Running
Lilian King-Thompson has an extensive background with helping people who are experiencing homelessness. She has been working in Midtown since January 2022. She quickly filled her caseload with people who live on the streets in Midtown and accepted her offer to help them find housing. Most ICM case workers work with about 20 to 25 people at a time. King-Thompson is working with nearly double that volume.
“We’ve found people who are chronically homeless, people who have had negative interactions with the service provider system and have been let down, or have their guards up,” Schweers said. “It really takes personalized attention to every single client to break through and build trust.”
Since beginning her work on the ground in Midtown in January, King-Thompson has:
- Added 44 people to her caseload
- Placed 31 of those 44 people into the City’s housing queue to receive housing when it becomes available
- Assisted 11 of those 31 in obtaining documentation such as a birth certificate and social security card required to receive a residence when it becomes available. Seven more people on the list are close to being fully documented.
It is anticipated that 17 people from Midtown could be housed within the next 45 days, barring any complications. And it is possible more could be housed within 90 days.
More Homes on the Horizon
Getting documentation in order to receive housing, especially when a client is from out of state, is no small task. Even if a person has the necessary documents, when they receive housing is still dependent on the availability of housing. Schweers explained that while ICM itself does not provide housing, it helps provide the essential connection to the city’s agency Partners for HOME, which does.
“In an ideal world, anyone experiencing homelessness who qualifies for supportive housing would move in within a month,” Schweers said. “Unfortunately, we’re far from that because of the lack of housing citywide. The very end destination for all our housing is permanent housing, and frankly there’s just not enough affordable housing.”
More housing should be coming online soon via Partners for HOME’s recently launched LIFT 2.0 program. This is the latest phase of a program launched using pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan. LIFT 1.0 successfully housed 794 people or families, although five percent have since returned to homelessness, according to a recent story published in the AJC.
With the second phase of the program, Partners for HOME will use $26.6 million in City and State funds to rapidly rehouse 1,500 households within 12 to 18 months. To meet this goal, the agency will need an additional $7 million dollars. LIFT 2.0 will prioritize people experiencing unsheltered and chronic homelessness, using a phased approach that reduces encampments, moves people into housing and ensures they have access to wraparound support services to achieve lasting self-sufficiency.
Source: Partners for HOME
There is also a hotel running as a "non-congregate shelter" in operation with LIFT 2.0, and according to ICM, King-Thompson has moved one Midtown client into it so far. Others could be moved into the shelter as availability allows.
“From our perspective, [the pilot partnership with Midtown Alliance] is going really well,” Schweers said. “The whole community has a role to play with people who are experiencing homelessness - the city government, nonprofits and groups like Midtown Alliance - to look after the safety of the community. We all win if we pool our resources.”
Success in the Field
Both King-Thompson and Midtown Blue staff have experienced other successes throughout the year as they wait for more housing to become available from the City.
For example, King-Thompson has worked for roughly six months with “Ms. S,” who has been experiencing homelessness for more than 20 years. She did not have any of her vital identity documents required for almost all housing interventions when the two first connected. Since that time, King-Thompson has helped her obtain a social security card, state ID and birth certificate. Now, Ms. S is now in the housing queue and ready to move in when housing becomes available.
Meanwhile, Midtown Blue public safety officers have continued their ongoing homeless outreach efforts to build rapport and set the table for King-Thompson. These efforts include early morning welfare checks on people sleeping in the public right-of-way, as well as on private property. Public Safety Officers (PSOs) get on a first-name basis with individuals they find out on patrol. They ask about their mental and physical health, offering to connect them with resources.
It takes an average of nine to 15 times interacting with people experiencing homelessness for them to accept help, and by performing the welfare checks and regular patrols daily, PSOs see the same people often enough to build trust with them. Earlier this summer, a Midtown Blue staffer was able to locate the family of a 24-year-old living on the streets in Midtown and helped him purchase a Greyhound bus ticket to reunite with them.
“His family had been looking for him and were so excited,” said PSO Kristian McClendon, who started Midtown Blue’s homeless outreach program about five years ago. “They were very worried about him and his safety, and they were ecstatic he made it home.”
Interested in Lending a Hand?
If you see someone experiencing quality of life issues, you can now call ATL 311 to reach the Atlanta Policing and Diversion Initiatives’ Harm Reduction Team, which can locate the individual and get them help.
This month, Midtown Blue will also conduct its annual early morning count to estimate how many people are experiencing homelessness in Midtown. This census helps us understand whether the number is going up and down over time, and tailor our programs to be more effective. If you are interested in helping us conduct this census or donating items for care and hygiene packages our team will give out during the count, email firstname.lastname@example.org.