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On the front lines to end homelessness in Georgia

Meet HOPE Atlanta caseworker Nigel Dawson

When you think about homelessness in Georgia, what comes to mind? Do you think of the “tent city” below the highway? Or the unsheltered person you pass every morning on your way to grab coffee?

Maybe this isn’t a question you can answer, but HOPE Atlanta caseworker Nigel Dawson can. As a veteran Atlanta social worker with a master’s degree in cultural anthropology, he works one-on-one with people experiencing homelessness daily. In this three-part series, Dawson shares his unique perspective on homelessness in Georgia: where we stand as a community and whether we are any closer to solving it.

Let’s start with the big question: are we getting closer to solving homelessness in Georgia?

I do think we are closer. I think we’ve seen success on some fronts and less success in others.

What are some examples of the successes?

We’ve seen a lot of success in housing homeless veterans over the last two or three years. We’ve been able to house most veterans in Georgia. While we still see new veterans and homeless people every day, the vast majority in the state of Georgia have been housed one way or another.

Initiatives to address the intersection of domestic violence and housing in Atlanta have also seen a lot of success, specifically during the Trump administration. A lot of government funding through HUD has been focused on domestic violence, veterans, and people living with HIV and aids. Those three groups have seen a lot of success recently in the local Atlanta area.

What are some of the things that worry you, or areas where we’ve fallen short as a whole?

There will be a large wave of new homelessness coming because of COVID-19, gentrification, and the general economy.

We have fallen short, especially in the Atlanta area, when it comes to serving our homeless youth, HIV positive, queer, and trans communities. The trans community is extremely vulnerable and likely to end up homeless, and that’s rooted in homophobia and transphobia. A lot of trans youth will get thrown out of their homes and some start doing sex work to survive, which we call “survival sex.” They are at risk of HIV or other STIs, which further complicates their housing struggles because they don’t have jobs, struggle with a disease, or have trouble getting care. That’s one of the things that’s not going well here in Georgia.

(Note for readers: In 2018, Georgia State University conducted research on the homeless population here in Georgia. The research stated that there are about 3,372 homeless and runaway youth between 14 and 25 across multiple counties. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Georgia ranks as the 12th highest in homeless cases.)

What is HOPE Atlanta doing to help?

HOPE Atlanta helps house people in multiple ways. One way is supportive housing and housing vouchers, which allow low-income families to lease or purchase a privately-owned rental property. Another way is through rapid re-housing, which gives financial support to those in need for an extended period to keep a roof over their heads.

We should be here for everyone who enters the door, not just people who fit the image of what people think homelessness looks like. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.

So, what steps should Georgia be taking to end homelessness? What can we learn from what other communities have done? Stay tuned for Part II of this series. To make sure you’re in-the-know about homelessness and hunger issues facing Georgia, sign up for our emails and follow HOPE Atlanta on Facebook and Instagram.

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