Homelessness emerged as a national issue around the 1870’s in America. It emerged in mostly urban cities like New York city.
This is a picture taken of a beggar in 1910. It was taken in New York City, a large, urban city like Atlanta.
The issue really took off during the 1930’s during the Great Depression with a large rise in unemployment throughout the country and it has not stopped since. Since coming to Atlanta for college, I have seen the beauty of the great city. I have also experienced the culture through touring different places and listening to the music that artists from the city have produced.
This is a photo I took from West Village of some of the city of Atlanta.
But, this wonderful city is not without flaws. It has a large homelessness problem. Coming from a small town there were never any problems with homelessness. I noticed this issue right away when I came to Atlanta. Homeless at stoplight begging for money, the tents of the homeless all around the city. It was very new to me. According to Midtown Atlanta news there are about 3,200 homeless in America bringing the percentage of the population homeless in Atlanta to .65%. This percent may not seem that high, but it is almost four times the national average of .17%, which is absurdly high. Being homeless can leave a person victim to the elements and without proper food and nutrition. They also are not able to afford health insurance, and thus cannot afford to visit the doctor for even yearly check-ups. Covid-19 has hit the homeless population especially hard. It has resulted in closed shelters and has understaffed food pantries. The closure of facilities that people rely on for food and shelter can be devastating and possibly dangerous if they are unable to find other places. There has also been an increase in the amount without housing due to Covid. The laying off of workers has caused many to struggle paying their bills. This has resulted in an increase of the homeless population over the past year.
Major groups that homeless are comprised of
The people who are homeless are usually the mentally ill, addicts, families of a mother and children, and veterans. These are people who need help the most, but instead do not receive the help they need, and are instead forced to live on the streets because they cannot afford housing. Drugs are a big problem in America especially with the homeless population. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “38% of homeless are dependent on alcohol” and “26% abused other drugs”. That is astronomically higher than the national average for alcohol and drugs.
Above is a picture of an empty heroin bottle from 1910. Drugs started to become a problem in the early 1900’s and are currently a detriment to the homeless population.
According to greendoors.org about “34%” of the homeless population is comprised of homeless families. These are mostly women supporting one or more children. Around 10% of homeless were at one point veterans. Men who at one point fought for our country, now cast aside to the streets. Many of these people have mental illnesses. Human rights campaign estimates “26.2%” have mental issues, and they do not get the therapy needed to help treat these mental problems.
Issues that affect the homeless
The homeless face many problems in Atlanta. Homeless are the victims of crimes, such as assault, sexual harassment, and rape. According to The Guardian “more than 1 and 3 have had some form of violence against them while being homeless”, and “around 7%” have been sexually assaulted”. Atlanta is one of the more dangerous cities in Georgia. Anyone who wants to can walk up to a homeless person and commit acts of violence against them. They have nowhere to go for safety and no way of defending themselves, especially if the attacker is armed. We need to focus on getting the homeless off the dangerous streets of Atlanta and into housing. The homeless also are unable to receive medical help. This is due to the fact that they do not have health insurance. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information homelessness is commonly associated with “parasitic infestations, dental and periodontal disease, degenerative joint diseases”. These are health problems that can be solved by a simple check up at the doctor and dentist, but homeless people are not able to afford housing so there is no way for them to afford health care. Each year thousands of homeless die because of preventable issues such as these. National Health Care for the Homeless Council found that about 6,000 homeless died during 2018. They admitted that this number is much higher as many deaths go unknown. In 2021 Atlanta we have the ability to stop these deaths. University College London found that “A third of deaths in the homeless are caused by treatable conditions”. This does not factor in the murders and deaths by environmental conditions like the cold, or natural disasters. These can be alleviated by providing housing for these groups of people to protect them from nature and others.
The need for more affordable housing
Housing in Atlanta the cost of living is increasing rapidly. According to the Atlanta newspaper housing has had an “increase of more than 45%” since 2013. As a city, one of the ways to help with this issue, is to increase government spending on affordable housing. An example of a type of this housing is subsidized housing. Subsidized housing is owned by private owners, but some of the rent is paid for by the government to help lower income people with payments. According to the US Council on Homelessness, “When housing costs are more affordable and housing opportunities are more readily available, there is a lower likelihood of households becoming homeless”. In larger cities, like Atlanta cost of living is very expensive. This is a driving factor in the large number without homes. Dropping the expense of housing would result in less people on the streets.
The need to open back up shelters
As more people are receiving vaccinations for covid we need to start opening back shelters. Covid has forced shelters to limit the number of people they can admit. From the CDC’s chart, covid cases in Georgia have fallen from about 10,000 a day to 3,000 a day, since the new year began. This fall in cases should be responded with the opening back up of facilities that help people in need. Some people rely on these shelters in order to not have to sleep on the streets at night. Lower capacity in shelters simply means more people sleeping on the streets of Atlanta each night.
This is a picture I took of a local shelter in Atlanta. Its name is My Sister’s House and is about a mile off of campus. The shelter is meant for women and children. It provides food and shelter and also teaches job training, life skills, and counseling.
How you can help
Most of the topics I have talked about are tasks that only the government and elected officials can do, but there are many things that people who want to help out can do. When a homeless person comes up to you and asks for money you should not give it to them. Many of the homeless are addicts and instead of buying food or items they need will spend it on drugs and alcohol. What can be done instead is buying food and hygiene items and donating it to the local shelters, food banks and pantries. Clothes are also always needed especially underwear and socks. You can also give these items to them directly.
This is a picture of canned foods, one of the most commonly donated foods to shelters and food banks.
Above is a picture of people waiting in line outside of a soup kitchen. Soup kitchens like these are what food banks of today are based off of. The picture was taken somewhere around 1910-1920 a few decades after homelessness became a national issue.
Items like this may not seem very helpful to the donor, but they go a long way for people with very little money. Volunteering is always needed at shelters and food banks. They will accept anyone with open arms to do tasks like sorting donated items and handing out clothes and foods. Your time will be very beneficial and impact lives.
Ultimately, homelessness in Atlanta is a huge problem. It mostly affects those who need help from society the most, addicts, single mothers, the mentally ill, and veterans. They suffer from various issues like abuse, chronic disease, and inability to defend themselves from the environment. Due to these reasons, we need to focus more money on affordable housing and bring shelters and food banks back to full capacity as covid cases lower. Shelters can be helped by providing donations of food and clothing that will be distributed to homeless. If we as a city join together with the goal to solve this crisis, we will be successful and provide help to those who need it the most.
- My sister’s house: A women and CHILDREN’S shelter in Atlanta. (2020, July 24). Retrieved March 02, 2021, from https://atlantamission.org/my-sisters-house-a-women-and-childrens-shelter-in-atlanta/
- Ucl. (2019, March 13). A third of homeless deaths are from treatable conditions. Retrieved March 02, 2021, from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2019/mar/third-homeless-deaths-are-treatable-conditions
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Health Care for Homeless People. (1988, January 01). Health problems of homeless people. Retrieved March 02, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218236/
- Bruce, G. (2020, November 16). Homeless shelters grapple WITH COVID safety as COLD creeps in. Retrieved March 02, 2021, from https://khn.org/news/homeless-shelters-grapple-with-covid-safety-as-cold-creeps-in/
- Family homelessness facts. (n.d.). Retrieved March 02, 2021, from https://www.greendoors.org/facts/family-homelessness.php
- Crisis report reveals shocking dangers of being homeless. (2016, December 23). Retrieved March 02, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2016/dec/23/homeless-crisis-report-attack-violence-sleeping-rough