In the ‘#1 State for Business,’ low unemployment rates don’t tell the whole story

November is Homelessness Awareness month. Here’s where Georgia stands.

In the fiscal year 2022, businesses invested more than $21.2 billion into Georgia-based projects, creating more than 50,000 new jobs and earning our state the “Top State for Business” title for the ninth consecutive year.

That is obviously good news. But a thriving economy doesn’t necessarily equate to a thriving society. We must also factor in residents’ well-being — whether our culture encourages social mobility and allows everyone to flourish. Through this lens, Georgia falls short.

We need to look no further than our daily commutes, where people still shelter under bridges, at public parks, or in encampments. These folks, among those we serve at HOPE Atlanta, are the last to feel the benefits of a strong economy. They are also the first to feel the pain of economic downturns.

The data concurs. Atlanta has the greatest income inequality of any large U.S. city. A one-two punch of soaring rent costs and inflation has widened the chasm between haves and have-nots.

We cannot understate the cost burden on lower-income Georgians. Consider this: the average income of families applying for rental assistance in Fulton County is $18,600. These households’ total monthly income is less than the average one-bedroom apartment in the City of Atlanta. And this isn’t only an “inner city” problem. Between 2021 and 2022, rents in Buford rose 60%, and other regions like Marietta, Forest Park and Stone Mountain also saw significant hikes.

Increasingly, those seeking our help are families and fixed-income seniors who were priced out of their homes and have nowhere else to turn. For others, a single crisis — like a cancer diagnosis, layoff or broken-down car — forced them into housing insecurity, hunger or even homelessness.

You might assume that, given the abundance of jobs, people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The majority of our clients do work or have a source of income. We’ve assisted countless workers who have had to return to homeless shelters, MARTA stations or motel rooms at the end of their shifts. We have veteran clients who bravely served their countries, hardly a reflection of laziness or weak character.

No matter the root causes, homelessness and hunger are humanitarian crises that shouldn’t be considered a “normal” part of society. Yet, these issues are surprisingly widespread. Some 10,000 Georgians experience homelessness daily, while an estimated one in nine face hunger or food insecurity. One in three of those are children.

These issues are solvable but require plenty of collaboration, innovation and compassion. Fortunately, Georgia is a state where all of these qualities abound. Our community and partners give us HOPE that besides being the #1 state for business, Georgia can become a model for tackling homelessness and hunger through collective action.

Our community of supporters has enabled us to provide a key support system for Georgians in need for more than 120 years, seeing our neighbors through crises like Hurricane Katrina, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Great Recession and COVID-19. Thanks to our dedicated partners, we’ve expanded our reach to assist Georgians across 31 counties. In FY22, we permanently housed 2,698 people, provided another 7,456 with housing support and provided more than 230,000 meals.

Partners like Northside Hospital, a major supporter of HOPE Atlanta for almost a decade, are a shining example of corporate citizenship.

Then there’s CARROLL, which committed $250K over five years to help sustain our homelessness and hunger services.

Besides providing financial and volunteer support, Gas South loaned one of its executives to serve as our interim CEO during a time of transition earlier this year.

Publix Super Markets has long committed to HOPE Atlanta and our mission. A key supporter of Action Ministries before the organization joined HOPE Atlanta, Publix has given hundreds of thousands in donations to fight hunger over the years and even sponsored media campaigns to raise awareness.

During Heroes for HOPE on Nov. 17th, there was a palpable excitement in the room as attendees heard from community leaders and former HOPE Atlanta clients, and celebrated our collective power to change lives.

And it always warms our hearts to see the many volunteers mobilizing to aid our hunger operations. Corporate teams (like one from Carter’s that volunteers regularly), school children, faith-based groups, and dedicated individuals are among those making an impact.

Many homelessness and hunger-focused nonprofits see an uptick in engagement during the holidays, and rightfully so. During the giving season (and amid plunging temperatures), our thoughts are often with those less fortunate. During National Homelessness Awareness Month and every month, we want to challenge the community to not only be aware — but to take action.

Let’s work together to help feed and shelter struggling neighbors.

With your donation today, you’ll join a growing movement of Georgians who are saying “enough” to long-standing issues of homelessness, hunger, and inequality. Make your gift today!

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HOPE Atlanta

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