Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed promised a comprehensive new plan to address homelessness in his State of the City address in February. The mayor promised a new $50 million program, co-funded by the city and United Way. Yesterday, Atlanta’s city council approved its share of the funding as Reed’s office released details on the expansive plan.
On Monday, the city council agreed to a $26 million bond commitment that will be added to $25 million promised by the United Way.
The plan – called the Homeless Opportunity Bond – comes in five different parts aimed at countering different types of homelessness. The overall goal, Reed said in a statement, is to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring.”
The biggest chunk will go to buying or renovating 500 permanent homes. These will be available for the chronically homeless, who are people who have a mental or physical disability and have either been consistently homeless for over a year or had four spates of homelessness in the last three years.
Only about 13 percent of Atlanta’s homeless population are believed to be chronically homeless, according to last year’s estimates from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nationwide, about 85 percent of homeless people are non-chronic – they’re only on the streets for a few months at a time, and may stay with friends and family before ultimately finding stable housing.
Atlanta’s chronic homelessness plan is modeled after a Utah policy called Housing First. The program gives chronically homeless individuals a house or apartment, no questions asked. Even if an individual is still struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, they get to keep their home, so long as they can pay either $50 or 30 percent of their income per month – whichever is more expensive.
The policy began in 2005. It’s difficult to gauge how successful it’s been, since Utah shifted their homelessness definitions in 2010 to reflect federal guidelines. The change led to the appearance of a sudden and dramatic turnaround. Still, only six percent of Utah’s homeless population was chronic last year, compared to 22 percent nationwide. That gives Utah the lowest chronic homeless population in the country.
The second part of the bond will go toward securing 300 units for “rapid rehousing.” This is another popular policy nationwide. It quickly puts people who are on the verge of becoming homeless into temporary housing, providing them a chance to put together a plan for a permanent home themselves. The idea is that keeping someone off the streets, even for a little while, staves off the worst effects of homelessness, such as health deterioration, stigmatization, and trouble finding employment without a permanent address.
Reed’s press secretary Jenna Garland wrote in an email that rapid rehousing “is great for individuals or families experiencing temporary homelessness (non-chronic) because it is a temporary, flexible subsidy with services. The family or individual eventually pays the rent on their own after getting back on their feet.”
The third part of the plan calls for preventing 100 families from entering homelessness. Garland wrote that “Subsidies will be provided to divert families who would otherwise become homeless, by providing funds to keep them in housing and divert them from the shelter system altogether. The project will target efforts toward families with high risk factors for homelessness.”
Lastly, the bond will pay for 264 new emergency shelter beds and 254 new housing interventions for homeless youth. This comes on the heels of the controversial Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter announcing that it will shut its doors in August. Atlanta Magazine reports that caseworkers will be matching the roughly 500 men living in Peachtree-Pine with other programs and housing opportunities. That might include one of the opportunities being paid for with the Homeless Opportunity Bond.
According to the non-profit Partners for Home, more than 3,500 men, women and children in Atlanta are in need of some kind of shelter.