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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Census: 6,664 homeless people counted in Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb

More than 6,600 men, women, and children who were considered homeless were counted in Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • More than 6,600 men, women, and children who were considered homeless were counted in Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties
In 2002, then-Mayor Shirley Franklin commissioned a plan to "end homelessness" - an ambitious and almost impossible task - by 2013. According to a census released this week of homeless people in Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, there's still a long way to go.

According to the latest biennial census by the Metro Atlanta Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative on Homelessness, also known as Tri-J, 6,664 people were living on the streets, in shelters, and transitional housing in the city and counties. The census, which CL obtained this week, is considered one of the best snapshots of the Tri-J area's homeless population on an average night and helps determine future federal funding.

The headcount - the sixth of its kind - of homeless men, women, and families shows that after several years of increases during the middle of the 2000s, the population count actually dipped. However, the number of people who would be considered "homeless" is relatively the same as it was when the initiative began.

The report - we've embedded it after the jump - is a long and thorough read. The census was conducted by the Pathways Community Network Institute, an Atlanta-based consultant, with the help of more than 400 volunteers who fanned out across Atlanta, DeKalb, and Fulton one early morning in January to count the number of homeless people living in the areas. Some interesting observations:

* "Five times as many individuals as family members were counted on census night. Of the total number of homeless people counted, unaccompanied adults staying in emergency shelters comprised the largest group (33 percent) with unaccompanied adults sleeping in unsheltered locations second (30 percent)"

* "The largest number (2,736 people) was counted sleeping in emergency shelters, with persons found in unsheltered locations a distant second (2,077 people), and those in transitional housing third (1,851 people)"

* "The total homeless census numbers for 2013 are the second lowest of all the counts, with the lowest numbers counted in 2003. It is of note that the 2013 homeless census had the smallest number of unsheltered people found compared to previous counts. The 2013 sheltered count numbers are most similar to those of the 2005 homeless census."

* "The bed capacity on count night was three times greater for emergency shelters than transitional housing programs. Overall, the occupancy rate for emergency shelter beds was higher (92 percent) than the occupancy rate for transitional housing beds (83 percent). This means that on the night of the count 253 emergency beds were available (114 individual and 139 family beds). Additionally, there were 383 transitional housing beds available (245 individual and 132 family beds). If all available beds were occupied for the census, there would still be 1,669 people sleeping outside on the night of the count." [Ed. Emphasis added]

* "A high concentration of unsheltered homeless people (55 people, 3 percent) was also found at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Typically, people who are homeless arrive at the Airport on the last MARTA train of the night and leave out the next morning on the first train. Homeless people are usually left alone by the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Police to sleep overnight."

* "The total Tri-J homeless numbers have held fairly steady over the years even though there has been a steady increase in the bed capacity, especially for permanent supportive housing programs. This finding indicates that adding beds to the Tri-J community does not necessarily reduce the overall number of people homeless. It merely shifts where homeless persons are sleeping at night. Instead, efforts must be made to solve the causes of homelessness, such as addiction and mental health problems."

* According to the researchers' estimates, "[a]pproximately 21,111 people will experience homelessness in the Tri-J area sometime during 2013."

* "Interestingly, the downtown Atlanta homeless numbers [458 people] are similar from the first census in 2003 to the latest count. This trend shows a comparable pattern to the overall Atlanta homeless numbers. Specifically from 2003 to 2007, downtown Atlanta experienced a steady decrease (by 32 percent) in homeless people on count night. However from 2007 to 2011, there was a dramatic increase (by 89 percent). The good news is that the downtown Atlanta area saw a decrease (by 132 people, 22 percent) for this census."

Atlanta, which is dense and home to many of metro Atlanta's social service providers, showed the highest number of homeless people. According to the census, 5,571 homeless men, women, and families - 84 percent of the people counted - were in the city limits. "Most people (2,559 people, 46 percent) were
sleeping at emergency shelters with unsheltered locations a distant second (1,773 people, 32
percent) and transitional housing programs third (1,239 people, 22 percent)," the report says.

Atlanta's taken steps to help the chronically homeless men, women, and children in the city to get off the streets. A special City Hall innovation team funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies grant has created a voluntary registry to help link homeless people with the appropriate available services and resources. The group's focused first on homeless veterans. Mayor Kasim Reed also recently announced the creation of a nonprofit, overseen by a board members who will be appointed mostly by him, that would help address the issue.

The future of Tri-J, which was created as part of the effort to tackle homelessness as a regional issue, remains unclear. As David Pendered recently noted, DeKalb has announced its pulling out of the collaborative to focus on its own programs.

2013 Tri-J Homeless Census Report - Final by thomaswheatley

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