November is National Homelessness Awareness Month

Here’s what communities around Georgia need to know in 2021.

It’s National Homelessness Awareness Month, and we’re all aware that homelessness exists. It’s a problem that has long plagued our communities, and one that’s hard to ignore whether you’re driving past an encampment on your way to work, passing through the airport or MARTA station, or reading about our growing housing affordability crisis in the news.

So, what else should Georgians be aware of when it comes to homelessness? Since many myths and misconceptions about homelessness persist, let’s start by airing the truth about the causes of homelessness among the populations we serve.

CEO Jeff Smythe gives an overview of HOPE Atlanta’s housing-first approach to assisting clients.

Family Homelessness

There’s a misconception that people experiencing homelessness tend to be older, single, and male. But many of the clients we serve have kids and families. The National Center on Family Homelessness estimated that families make up about 40% of the overall homeless population. That includes families like:

If families make up such a large portion of the overall homeless population, why are single people the ones we mainly see on the streets? Because so many of them are experiencing what we call “hidden homelessness” — living in shelters, cars, motels, or couch-surfing.

What’s being done? We help families who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness secure stable housing and overcome obstacles so they can return to self-sufficiency.

Housing-Insecurity and ‘Hidden’ Homelessness

Another myth is that bad choices always lead to homelessness. While that can be the case (and who hasn’t occasionally made bad decisions), sudden and unexpected events like illnesses, accidents, and job losses are often the root cause.

To understand how easy it is for many households to fall into homelessness, look at the economic conditions. Firstly, affordable housing is in short supply; just 10% of apartments in Atlanta are considered “affordable.” With overall costs of living on the rise — including groceries, daycare, transportation, and more — it’s nearly impossible for many working households to balance the budget, let alone save up an emergency fund. Download our Tough Choices exercise to see for yourself.

COVID-19 disproportionately impacted low-income families, worsening housing insecurity. The now-expired eviction moratorium bought some struggling households a little extra time, but landlords and court systems didn’t consistently follow it. While the government has offered additional rental assistance, the lengthy application process requires access to a computer — something not all households have. Many landlords are now opting to sell their properties, further exacerbating the housing shortage.

What’s being done? We connect at-risk households to resources to help prevent eviction and homelessness and provide rental assistance to those nearing crisis.

Veteran Homelessness

Veterans face unique challenges that make them 50% more likely to experience homelessness; so, HOPE Atlanta has a dedicated team to help them — Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). This safety net is crucial because, although many people assume that veterans have access to VA benefits, the reality is more complicated.

For one thing, many veterans find themselves unprepared to transition back to civilian life, especially if they’re experiencing PTSD or other mental health issues.

“There may be underlying issues that the military didn’t recognize when they were in service,” explained Antoinette Fields, SSVF Community Relations and Compliance Manager for HOPE Atlanta. “We don’t take into account the things that they have seen, the things that they have done, and they don’t debrief them like they should be debriefed when they come back from tour.”

Then there is the fact that not all veterans are eligible for benefits through the VA or knowledgeable about accessing them.

“One of the myths is that people think once veterans are discharged that they have money and insurance, and that’s not necessarily true,” said Shelby McGadney, SSVF Program Manager. “We have a lot of clients that haven’t served for more than two years who are not eligible for VA health insurance. The myth is everyone who leaves the military is financially set.”

What’s being done? One of just two area nonprofits to leverage SSVF funding, our team helps veterans secure stable housing and other resources, like mental health services, legal services, and utility and rental assistance.

Homelessness Among People Living With HIV/AIDS

Many people assume the HIV/AIDS epidemic was a problem in the 80s and 90s. But it’s far from over. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 58,615 Georgians were living with HIV in 2019. The past five years have seen around 2,500 newly-diagnosed cases per year. Georgia is ranked third in the nation for the highest rates of HIV cases, with 21.5 per 100,000 people.

Sadly, the issues of HIV/AIDS and homelessness are closely intertwined. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, up to 50% of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are at risk of becoming homeless.

Among the reasons:

  • The high costs of healthcare for PLWHA
  • Discrimination or frequent health-related absences can result in job loss
  • Substance abuse disorders among homeless populations

Because HIV targets the immune system, PLWHA can’t fight off the illnesses they are more likely to acquire while experiencing homelessness due to factors like malnutrition, exposure, or cold weather. They’re also more likely to contract diseases like hepatitis and tuberculosis in shelters.

Fortunately, as with the COVID crisis and previous public health emergencies, HOPE Atlanta provides a support system to ensure that this population’s unique needs are met.

What’s Being Done? Our Special Needs Housing program serves as the central intake to assist people living with HIV/AIDS experiencing homelessness.

Now that you’re ‘aware,’ show that you care.

A one-time or recurring donation to HOPE Atlanta helps provide more support to individuals, families, veterans, people living with HIV/AIDS, and more — because no one deserves to experience homelessness.

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