Opinion: Atlanta’s acting to help the homeless

Mayor says the city’s building and investing to improve plight of the unhoused.
Georgia's state capitol dome is visible from porches at The Melody, a 40-unit development of housing for the homeless made from old shipping containers.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Credit: Jim Gaines

Georgia's state capitol dome is visible from porches at The Melody, a 40-unit development of housing for the homeless made from old shipping containers.

On a recent Saturday night, a fellow Atlantan sat down over a fire to cook a meal. This was no ordinary dinner. This man was sitting down at an outdoor fire, under a bridge, on one of the coldest nights in recent memory.

Undoubtedly this was not his first time, but sadly, it was his last.

Our neighbor died that night after accidentally setting himself on fire. The flames that were supposed to keep him warm and provide a hot meal instead took his life. While homelessness isn’t a crime, it was this man’s death sentence.

Andre Dickens

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

We often pride ourselves as the “city too busy to hate.” That moniker isn’t freely given; it must be earned by each successive generation. We all must ask ourselves, “What have we done to live up to that legacy?”

My answer: Not enough. Not nearly enough.

The Bible teaches that we should love thy neighbor, as thyself.

Last year, approximately 90 of our neighbors living on the streets of metro Atlanta lost their lives. Like our yet-to-be-identified neighbor above, homelessness was their death sentence.

Every night, hundreds of Atlantans sleep on our streets, in parks, or under bridges. Many lack access to necessities like food, shelter and healthcare, putting them at risk of illness, injury and even death. This is not just a humanitarian crisis; it is a public health and safety crisis that affects all of us.

Our homeless service system is working incredibly hard to exit people with urgency into housing. Through our LIFT housing effort and other resources, we have permanently rehoused 1,937 households in the last 12 months. Despite the hard work of our city’s nonprofit, public and private organizations, the existing system of shelters and support services is overwhelmed and underfunded. Existing resources are stretched thin, leaving many individuals waiting for weeks or months to access stable housing. This unacceptable delay exacerbates existing challenges and makes it harder for people to find a pathway out of homelessness.

To help address this situation, I am issuing an executive order for $4.6 million and last Monday I asked my colleagues on the Atlanta City Council to allocate and they unanimously approved $3.1 million to accelerate our rapid housing initiative. This $7.7 million will be deployed to immediately house at least 250 people and support the continued operations of the Gateway Center downtown which houses an additional 100 people.

These funds will be used to increase emergency shelter capacity; identify, purchase and/or lease additional facilities; increase housing placements; and provide wrap around supportive services and security at selected sites.

Last Friday, we marked the grand opening of The Melody, a 40-unit property for the unsheltered, made from repurposed shipping containers in downtown Atlanta that was constructed in four months. I’ve often said that Atlanta is a “group project” and initiatives like these demonstrate that a better future is possible for many of our neighbors and for our community overall. These steps make a difference and my administration is committed to carrying on this work.

This group project has produced a 21% reduction in violent crime, delivered over 3,250 affordable and supportive housing units, and served 20,000 young people through our Year of the Youth initiative.

Our city has a mighty legacy. A legacy rooted in love, compassion and hope. Today and every day, we can expand that group project and take one step closer to living up to that legacy by bringing our brothers and sisters in from out of the cold.

Andre Dickens is mayor of Atlanta.

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