Atlanta seeks volunteers for citywide survey of homeless

Organizers are seeking volunteers for two shifts. Starting at 6 p.m. and continuing for six hours on Jan. 17, volunteers will conduct surveys in emergency night shelters. From 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Jan. 18, volunteers will conduct surveys in outdoor locations. Organizers said Atlanta police will be on hand to provide support as needed, and all volunteers will be deployed on teams led by professional outreach workers. Both shifts will begin with training and briefing sessions. More information is available at

As part of an effort to place hundreds of homeless residents in permanent housing by December, Atlanta has launched a registry of the homeless and is calling for as many as 300 volunteers to scour the city and determine which services are needed.

On the evening of Thursday, Jan. 17, and the morning of Friday, Jan. 18, volunteers supported by professional outreach workers and Atlanta police are scheduled to conduct surveys of people sleeping outdoors and in emergency shelters in Atlanta.

It’s the latest effort to ameliorate homelessness in Atlanta, where debates over aggressive panhandling and the safety of the area around the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta routinely become enmeshed in controversy.

Data from the surveys will be used to create the first by-name registry of homeless people in Atlanta, with information about their health problems and barriers to getting and keeping permanent housing.

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.”