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Are we any closer to ending homelessness in Georgia?

COVID-19 ushered in a renewed interest in ending homelessness. In 2021, the tide could finally be turning.

COVID-19 ushered in a renewed interest in ending homelessness. In 2021, the tide could finally be turning.

Every year, Partners for Home conducts a “point in time” count of people experiencing homelessness across 152 counties. The last count, which took place in January 2020, revealed that 3,240 people met the definition; they were either unsheltered (29%) or in emergency/transitional lodging (71%).

The point in time count offers a snapshot of how well we, as a society, are caring for vulnerable populations. Whether or not the 2021 study (scheduled for Jan. 25) shows an improvement, we’ll be a long way off from achieving an acceptable homelessness rate. That’s because the acceptable number of people experiencing homelessness is zero.

Homelessness can be solved. Although it took a pandemic to initiate 2020’s unprecedented mobilization efforts to safeguard and quarantine the unsheltered, groups in Metro Atlanta and across Georgia rose to the occasion. We proved what’s possible when the issue has sufficient attention and resources.

We have reason to hope that 2021 will represent a real turning point in the fight against homelessness. Here’s why.

1. Long-standing issues are gaining the attention they deserve.

When COVID-19 arrived last spring, we quickly realized that containing the virus would require everyone in the community to adhere to shelter-in-place orders. People sheltering at the airport, MARTA stations, and other highly trafficked areas were no longer seen as merely a nuisance; they were in danger of contracting and potentially spreading the virus. Homelessness became a public health issue.

The media and people all across the state closely watched as public health heroes came to the rescue and shameful, long-standing housing and inequity issues took on a new urgency. As racial injustice also entered the national dialogue, more people acknowledged their privilege and the importance of uplifting others.

2. More major organizations, foundations, and everyday advocates are joining the cause.

People and organizations didn’t only acknowledge homelessness and injustice issues or pay them lip service. They got involved. People from all walks of life joined marches, wrote to their government representatives, or registered to vote for the first time.

At HOPE Atlanta, we received homemade mask donations, move-in supply kits for families, toys during the holidays, and funds to help the many people at-risk or experiencing homelessness. Some donors had their own stories to share about facing homelessness, a reminder that the struggle is far more widespread than most realize.

Through all of it, companies also stepped up in a significant way. Instead of tightening purse strings amid economic uncertainty, they donated to causes serving people in dire need.

3. Unprecedented re-housing efforts are currently underway.

The pandemic demanded fast solutions. We quickly mobilized to develop and execute solutions like HOPE Atlanta’s “Healthy Hotels” initiative. We secured hotel rooms for vulnerable unsheltered people to isolate (and, eventually, transition to their own housing).

That was a temporary measure, but more permanent initiatives are underway to turn “people experiencing homelessness” into formerly homeless people. An aggressive effort to get 800 unsheltered Atlanta residents off the streets by December 2020 and those leading the fight against homelessness are optimistic that another 1,200 can be housed by the end of this year.

For our part, we’re continuing to work 1–1 with people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness to secure shelter, address their underlying struggles, and help them achieve self-sufficiency for life. Now, with Action Ministries joining HOPE Atlanta, we will expand our services and geographic reach.

But, much like the pandemic, it will take a village to end homelessness. If you want to be part of something bigger than yourself this year, consider getting involved. The easiest way to learn about the issue and opportunities to join the cause? Sign up for our emails.

HOPE Atlanta is a 120-year-old nonprofit organization that provides individualized housing support and advocacy for people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness and hunger.

Our vision is to end hunger and homelessness for every Georgian.

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