HOPE Atlanta

January weather is brutal, and the pandemic’s still surging. What would you do if you had nowhere to go?

Learn how the MARTA HOPE team supports those seeking refuge amid frigid temperatures and Omicron.

During the Partners for Home “Point in Time” count, on January 27th, 2020*, volunteers counted 3,240 people experiencing homelessness in Atlanta. About 937 of them were completely exposed to the elements. That night, the temperature plummeted to 32 °F.

Of course, that was just before the pandemic. Now, unsheltered people face even more risks than frigid temperatures. This time of year, in particular, many seek shelter and safety at MARTA stations and the airport. When they do, our MARTA HOPE team is there to help.

“We have seen a rise in unsheltered individuals coming to MARTA now that it is cold,” said Vinson Allen, MARTA HOPE’s lead case manager. “This is every year. This is the norm for them. Our first priority is to get the unsheltered out of the cold.”

Watch the new video to learn how we work with MARTA and other partners to assist unsheltered people “at the end of the line.”

For Vinson and the rest of the MARTA HOPE team, that means engaging people sheltering at the MARTA stations or sleeping on trains and helping them get to shelters or warming centers.

“For the men: it will be places like Salvation Army, Atlanta Mission, Adamsville Recreation Center, Gateway Center for transportation to warming shelters,” said Vinson. “For women: Salvation Army, Adamsville Recreation Center, Gateway Center for transportation to warming shelters.”

While there isn’t always enough space for everyone — particularly women and children, since shelter space is more limited for them — Vinson and his team work tirelessly to help as many people as possible get to a better place on any given day. Besides making a huge difference in these people’s lives, they have played an essential public health role since the MARTA HOPE program officially launched in August of 2020.

“The media talks about Omicron, but things are the same to me out on the MARTA trains,” said MARTA HOPE case manager Gloria Woodard.

After they engage an unsheltered person who agrees to receive help, the MARTA HOPE team doesn’t just work to secure short-term shelter and resources. They continue to provide 1–1 support to help clients address the root causes of homelessness and reclaim their self-sufficiency.

“I don’t just offer shelter, because anyone can go to a shelter,” said Vinson in a new video highlighting the MARTA HOPE team’s work and impact. “I’m thinking, ‘Let’s get to a shelter, get out of the shelter, get in your own place, stand on your own feet. And stay not homeless.’”

What’s the one thing he would want people to know about his line of work and his clients? “I would tell people: don’t be so quick to judge. Be quick to help.”

What to do if you encounter an unsheltered person on MARTA:

  • Direct people in need to the MARTA HOPE office, located at the Five Points station
  • Practice empathy and avoid making judgments
  • Follow your instincts; be aware of other people’s body language and your own
  • Don’t give money or share your personal information
  • Always contact MARTA Police or alert MARTA personnel in case of emergency

Learn more about the MARTA HOPE program, including contact information for those in need, by clicking here.

*Reader’s Note: While a PIT count was conducted in 2021, it did not study the unsheltered population (HUD waived the unsheltered count requirement due to COVID-19).