“This is exactly what we should be doing in the city of Atlanta,” Reed said at a press conference at the Vineyards Apartments. “Atlanta should set a national standard. No veteran in the United States of America should be without a home.”
Dwight Fitzgerald, an Air Force veteran, said he fell into homelessness after being laid off from an assembly plant in middle Georgia last year. He sought help at a Veterans Affairs hospital, where staffers helped him get medications for heart and back conditions.
In July, Fitzgerald got a place to stay in Stone Mountain, and he can now afford rent, food and energy. But he worries about the people still on the streets.
“I realized I had a serious problem and needed to do something about it,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there who need help. Maybe they don’t act like it. You’ve got to step up to the plate and say, ‘I need help.’”
Barrett Griffin, who served in the Marine Corps from 1970 to 1980, was homeless for years before an apartment at Vineyards Apartments and a job at the Georgia Aquarium helped stabilize his life.
“I give God thanks for being here, for another day above ground,” Griffin said. “Everybody goes through rough times. I got back on my feet.”
Plans to deal with homelessness or related problems in Atlanta can be controversial. A proposal in City Council to crack down on aggressive panhandling kicked off a vociferous debate this month about whether six-month jail terms were appropriate. Reed called the legislation punitive, vowing to veto it and advance his own legislation.
On Monday, Reed acknowledged it is hard to find, track and help homeless people because they move around the city during the day, don’t have phone numbers and lack fixed addresses. Next year, the city plans to call on volunteers to help identify and survey homeless people to get a better sense of their needs.
“We can end veteran homelessness if we treat it as a solvable problem,” said Jake Maguire of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, an advocacy group. “Too often, we look around and are overwhelmed.”