Advocates want more from DeKalb County warming centers

Local advocates are pushing DeKalb County to do more with the warming centers that are offered to protect vulnerable residents during frigid weather.

County officials, meanwhile, say the centers are only part of the puzzle — and they’re doing plenty more to address homelessness in the community.

Representatives from groups like the Coalition for A Diverse DeKalb, the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, the Justice for All Coalition, and A Home for Everyone in DeKalb planned to hold a press conference to discuss the issue Friday morning.

They say the three fire stations DeKalb has offered as warming centers on select evenings aren’t enough, and that more advance notice of their availability needs to be provided. Transportation plans and wraparound support services should also be provided for those in need, advocates said.

“DeKalb County needs to offer more warming center services for the unhoused that rival Gwinnett County: a hot meal, shower, overnight stay and services to help our residents get back on their feet,” Beacon Hill co-chair Phil Cuffey said in a news release.

The release called DeKalb’s current offerings “wholly inadequate to meet the needs of our most vulnerable residents.”

DeKalb community development director Allen Mitchell, meanwhile, said Tuesday that a total of nine people had come to warming centers during the four recent nights they’d been open.

He said those that do come are interviewed to see if they qualify for further assistance through the county’s coordinated entry program. Those larger efforts to address homelessness mean there’s not a demand for the warming stations “to the extent you might anticipate,” Mitchell said.

He said that, in the 12 months ending last September, more than 3,000 individuals were helped through things like emergency shelters and the county’s rapid re-housing program. More than 150 people were currently being housed in hotel or motel rooms paid for by the county.

“The county is currently housing more than 150 homeless citizens in transitional housing,” the county said in an emailed statement provided to the AJC. “The accommodations include meals twice a day, case management and security.  The county’s homelessness efforts are a top priority and include multiple county departments including public safety and community development.”

County Commissioner Ted Terry, who is chairman of the committee where Mitchell spoke this week, said he thinks DeKalb can “continue to fine tune aspects of the warming centers as an emergency response.” But he said he’s largely satisfied with the county’s approach to helping the unhoused and is encouraged that additional funding for rapid re-housing efforts is being made available in 2022.

The county typically announces warming center availability at, during the late afternoon or early evening. The centers are opened if overnight temperatures (including wind chills) are expected to drop below 35 degrees.

This year, warming centers have been located at the following fire stations: No. 3 (100 N. Clarendon Ave. in Avondale Estates) No. 4 (4540 Flakes Mill Road in Ellenwood) and No. 6 (2342 Flat Shoals Road near East Atlanta).

The county’s homelessness hotline can be reached at 404-687-3500.