The registry is designed to measure health vulnerability, as well as age and length of time spent on the streets. That data will be used to prioritize housing assistance for chronically homeless people and families with the highest risk of dying on the streets, organizers said.
Homeless residents who participate will be given gift cards for food. If they agree to it, volunteers will take photos to help teams identify the homeless as they move around the city.
“It’s putting a name to a face and understanding the needs of the people,” said Susan Lampley, project officer in Mayor Kasim Reed’s innovation delivery team. “It is a large effort, because there are a lot of people on the street. We have a broad range of people on the street, who are homeless for various reasons. This helps us understand who’s out there and what our needs are, so we can plan our resources appropriately.”
At last count, there were nearly 5,000 people sleeping in emergency night shelters and outdoor locations in Atlanta. Reed and private partners hope the registry will help the city place 800 people in permanent housing by December. That number includes 200 chronically homeless people, 400 homeless veterans, and 200 occasionally homeless individuals.
The federal government defines the chronically homeless as people who have been homeless for more than one year or who have experienced homelessness four or more times in three years.
“It concerns me deeply that every night thousands of homeless individuals are sleeping on Atlanta’s streets with nowhere to go and no hope for the future,” Reed said in a statement. “My administration is committed to identifying the specific needs of our homeless population and matching them with available resources. The Street Homeless Registry is the first step to make that a reality.”
The initiative was designed with the United Way of Greater Atlanta, Hands-On Atlanta and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.
The survey was tested recently along Courtland Street and Washington Street in downtown Atlanta. It went smoothly, Lampley said. About 125 homeless people participated, perhaps 90 percent of the number staffers approached. The offer of McDonald’s gift cards probably boosted participation.
“Tackling homelessness in Atlanta takes a community effort,” said Milton J. Little Jr., president of United Way of Greater Atlanta. “Identifying the most vulnerable in the homeless population is a key step in getting them the help they need, not only in terms of housing but also in case management, health care, treatment and other supports.”