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Monday, May 5, 2014

Mayor responds to CL editorial about homelessness

Last week, CL's editorial board expressed concern about the dissolution of a regional partnership focused on reducing homelessness. This morning, Mayor Kasim Reed responded, saying CL failed to highlight the city's recent accomplishments, mischaracterized its new strategy on reducing homelessness, and focused on the city when Fulton County has failed to address the issue. We've reprinted his response below in full. Our comments follow.

While your recent editorial on homelessness shines a light on a critical issue facing our city, the piece does your readers a disservice by omitting the significant strides the City of Atlanta has made toward reducing chronic homelessness.

Your editorial board was right to focus on the problem. Over the past ten years, the City has unfortunately had a large number of homeless individuals, with many being chronically homeless. However, I take issue with the fact that you neglected to mention the recent success we have had tackling this complex issue in the City of Atlanta.

We've included the rest of the mayor's statement after the jump:

In 2011, the Bloomberg Philanthropies gave a $3.3 million grant to the City of Atlanta to create my Innovation Delivery Team. They gave us the option of focusing on two areas. We could have chosen to focus on anything. I chose to address street homelessness, and also work to improve the City's customer service through an ATL311 system.

My Innovation Delivery Team, working with partners in local nonprofit and faith community, federal, state, and local governments, and housing authorities, launched the Unsheltered No More initiative.

Contrary to your assertion that we have "little reason to celebrate," we've had enormous success in just a few years. The numbers tell the story, and Creative Loafing clearly chose to ignore these critical successes.

Through the end of last year, 1,022 homeless men and women now have a place to call home. Our original goal of 800 was surpassed and included 754 veterans and their families. And each of these individuals and families received both housing and services. We have a 90+% housing retention rate among those housed.

Further, as part of President Obama's 2012 initiative to house 100 veterans in 100 days, Atlanta exceeded the goal and moved 131 chronically homeless veterans into permanent supportive housing. In fact, we housed more homeless veterans than any other U.S. city participating in this challenge.

And in 2013, the Associated Press recognized our success combating homelessness with a piece titled, "Atlanta Logs Dramatic Turnaround in Homelessness." In the article, Jake Maguire from the 100,000 Homes Campaign said, "Atlanta in some ways is kind of the poster child," and noted that Atlanta had produced "tremendous change in a short amount of time."

I also want to address the editorial's claim that the City of Atlanta is working in a silo. This is a mischaracterization of what's actually happening.

For many years, the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, and DeKalb County participated in the Tri-J Continuum-of-Care (CoC), an informal administrative collaborative formed to use $12 million in annual homeless funding from the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).

But in April 2013, DeKalb County, not the City of Atlanta, decided to break away from the Tri-J CoC and form their own. At that point, HUD required the City and Fulton to make a decision on what to do next. I chose to form the Atlanta CoC. We invited Fulton to join us, but they declined.

However, we extended a Board seat to Fulton County and Fulton Commissioner Joan Garner serves on the Governing Council for the Atlanta CoC. And my administration continues to work with Fulton in their role as county services provider. Homelessness is a federal, state, local and community challenge. The Atlanta CoC has governing members from the federal, state, Fulton County and the City of Atlanta governments, as well as the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Regional Commission on Homelessness at the United Way, community leaders and a formerly homeless individual.

The reality is Fulton County is abandoning its historic role as a human services provider because of its diminished financial capacity. Notably, the editorial board made no mention of this glaring reality, despite the fact that it is readily apparent in the county's most recent budget. It's also interesting that despite the fact that Fulton County should have a lead role in dealing with human services issues, the Creative Loafing editorial board chose to focus on the City of Atlanta, which has taken decisive action on this issue consistently.

The issue of homelessness is deeply personal to me. I believe in the principle laid out by Ghandi that any society should be "measured by how it treats its weakest members." I fully support the White House's goal of ending chronic and veteran homelessness. My administration remains committed to getting the right resources to our homeless population.

Your piece begins with a quote from a homeless individual named Laverne. She says "There's no love in Atlanta." Let me make our position clear to Laverne and everyone else who cares about this issue: I believe what I said when I was inaugurated in 2010. We need to be more than the city that is too busy to hate. We need to make sure that we are a city that isn't too busy to love one another as well.

That is exactly what we are doing through our homelessness initiatives.

We should note, however, that we do wag our finger at Fulton County in the editorial. We did the same in a past column. We've also covered the Innovation Delivery Team's work. We even applauded it. The focus on the piece in last week's paper was to look forward, not back.

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