Atlanta Business Chronicle Reports: First Step and Other Community Groups Work Together To Decrease Homelessness
Groups work together to decrease homelessness
By Tonya Layman – Contributing Writer
January 12, 2020
The number of people living on the streets of Atlanta has declined, in part due to several organizations partnering on a common theme: to lead the charge to make homelessness in Atlanta rare, brief and non-recurring.
Over the last decade, there has been a shift from agencies working separately to shelter people who are homeless toward agencies working together to identify, create and fund affordable, permanent housing and offer supportive services such as mental health care, substance abuse programs and job training, said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID).
“We are getting people into a productive stream to lead a better life, and housing has become a major focus,” he said. “The homeless count has gone way down and that is a reflection of the coordination of the effort.”
According to the nonprofit Partners for Home Inc., the number of homeless in the city has decreased from 4,317 in 2015 to 3,217 in 2019.
In 2015, CAP/ADID created a social impact director position to promote efforts supporting key quality-of-life issues. This role was recently filled by Tammy Hughes, who has spent the last several years at Atlanta Mission.
“I am very excited to pull together the business community, nonprofits and the socially focused community together to have a broader impact on our homeless population,” she said.
CAP/ADID also manages Woodruff Park, often a home base for many of Atlanta’s homeless people. Downtown Atlanta leaders have contracted with Janika Robinson, a case manager from Hope Atlanta, to help direct the park’s underserved populations to resources. From September 2018 to November 2019, Robinson has achieved 2,482 engagements and 114 permanent housing placements, according to CAP/ADID.
“We have had a lot of success with this program, and that is due to Janika’s amazing talents as a case manager. She is resourceful. She meets people where they are geographically and physically. By being focused so specifically on the park and the people there, she has the time and space to build the trust and relationships necessary for getting the process to work,” said Ansley Whipple, Woodruff Park.
CAP/ADID also served as an original convener and supporter of House ATL, a consortium of entities working together on affordable housing issues in the city.
“House ATL has been a comprehensive effort of all those involved in making our community more ‘affordable’ by galvanizing everyone’s thoughts into one road map,” Robinson said. “We are now working to implement the recommendations that have been vetted by this group in partnership with the city and other community organizations that are involved in this work on a daily basis.”
Some of these organizations include First Step Staffing and Georgia Works, both providing job training and employment assistance; Gateway Center; Hope Atlanta and HomeFirst, a partnership between the city of Atlanta, acting through Invest Atlanta and the United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness (RCOH).
The HomeFirst Atlanta initiative was created after the city committed $25 million in funds to match $25 million in private contributions for investment in proven housing strategies and supportive services. IA and RCOH are investing that $50 million while seeking to leverage $66 million in state and federal funds to address homelessness. Other groups involved in this initiative include Partners for Home and the Atlanta Housing Authority.
According to attorney Jack Hardin, co-chair of RCOH, this community plan involves “doubling down on successful strategies and filling in the gap” between affordable housing and support services. RCOH has helped fund the development of 550 of these supportive housing units.
“Developers are repurposing existing properties or building new construction into affordable housing and commit a certain percentage to be allocated for supportive housing,” Hardin said, adding those who suffer from mental illness and qualify for the housing will also be eligible to receive services through Fulton County Behavioral Health.
HomeFirst is also involved in rapid re-housing, foreclosure prevention strategies and emergency shelter for men, women and families.
“Everyone realizes we have a housing crisis. Everyone is talking about it and there are a lot of people working hard toward a solution,” Hardin said. “Atlanta has made significant progress reducing our homeless counts over the last seven to eight years while other communities are seeing an increase. We are working together. Atlanta has a history of collective action for civic problems and there is a lot of power in that.”
Hardin said another nonprofit making an impact is Open Doors, an Atlanta real estate collaborative that places approximately 1,000 people annually into permanent housing by connecting the nonprofits looking for affordable housing for their clients to real estate operators.
“This is a group of real estate professionals who have come together to use their expertise to solve a problem and it’s working,” Hardin said.
Gateway Center provides temporary housing for homeless men, with 382 beds in the repurposed former city jail, and refers women and children to partner organizations. Although progress has been made, there is a shortfall of affordable housing in the downtown market, said Raphael Holloway, Gateway Center CEO.
“There is an uptick of people who are here at Gateway working their programs but they aren’t able to launch to the next step because we have depleted the number of affordable units in the city,” he said, adding that leaders need to put standards in place that require truly affordable units and encourage developers to be innovative in the types of housing they are creating. Other communities have seen success with shared living models, tiny home communities and container homes – all things that cut the cost of constructing the living unit, Holloway said.
“Progress is being made through programs like HomeFirst,” he said. “Now how do we replicate that? What happens after that $50 million is exhausted?”
The leaders involved in this mission said they are going to keep the momentum building and expect the homeless count to continue to decrease.
“There is a feeling here that if Atlanta is a city that can build the busiest airport in the world, host huge sporting events and be home to 6 to 8 million people,” said Robinson, “we ought to be able to figure out how to solve this problem.”
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