Homeless in DeKalb moved from hotel that borders senior home

Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman posted this photo on Facebook, showing the proximity between the hotel and senior living center.

Credit: Joseph Geierman via Facebook

Credit: Joseph Geierman via Facebook

Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman posted this photo on Facebook, showing the proximity between the hotel and senior living center.

DeKalb County is relocating dozens of homeless individuals after a local mayor raised concerns that they were being temporarily housed at a hotel that connects to a senior living facility.

Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman said he was worried that the county placed 43 people at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, which shares a campus with the Silverleaf Senior Living community. In a Facebook post on his official page Friday, he said he was concerned about the "fragile citizens" who live at the senior living facility, since older individuals are believed to be more at risk for severe coronavirus-related complications.

In a dialogue that largely played out on social media over the weekend, however, several people criticized the mayor’s approach, saying he sensationalized the issue of homelessness and made assumptions about the situation.

Geierman said he spoke with DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, who agreed to move the homeless individuals to another location. The mayor said he appreciated Thurmond’s “quick action on this once he heard about the situation” in Doraville, a city of 10,500 in northern DeKalb.

In his first post, he wrote there were “underlying issues” related to long-term homelessness, including substance abuse and mental illness, and he worried the county was not providing resources to address that beyond giving them a place to stay during the crisis.

The county said the 43 people were screened for coronavirus symptoms before entering the hotel, but did not disclose where they were relocated. The county has not provided details on what other services or resources it is offering its local homeless population during the pandemic.

A count earlier this year found that more than 400 homeless people lived in DeKalb, according to The Champion newspaper.

“My primary concern is that this was done in a location where there’s another vulnerable population,” Geierman said in an interview on Friday. “In terms of us in Doraville, we haven’t been given any resources to help with this. It was sort of dropped in our lap in probably the worst place possible.”

DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson said the situation was not as Geierman presented it. She said the senior citizens were kept safe and separated from people in the hotel.

“DeKalb County stepped in to meet the needs of Doraville’s homeless population, because we provide for the safety and welfare of all DeKalb residents,” Cochran-Johnson wrote on Facebook. “There was a sensationalization of this situation rather than a discussion by appropriate elected officials.”

Geierman said he wrote his original Facebook post “out of frustration” after not hearing from the county last week, and was happy the issue was resolved.

Doraville Councilwoman Stephe Koontz, who initially criticized the county’s actions, said she talked with Cochran-Johnson and later said she was “too quick to blame” the county. She said the city should have thought about the hotel’s proximity to the senior living facility weeks ago.

“It doesn’t matter if homeless folks or just the general public are staying at this hotel: if there is actually a risk of the virus being transmitted to the seniors living there, we should have done something to protect them and we didn’t,” Koontz wrote on Facebook.

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