Homeless in Atlanta, Georgia Compared to Cleveland, Ohio

Commentary by Simona Lynch

The streets in Atlanta are beautiful and fun with so much life and entertainment.  There are many community events and a lot of celebrities that live in Atlanta.  It’s a city of fun.  Atlanta, Georgia a city where African Americans from all over the United States are relocating to.  Most of the people are famous and successful.  All of the African Americans help’s each other, so why aren’t they helping homeless people?

What if you are poor or maybe homeless? Why are the shelters  over- crowed, and why do they have to turn people away if there are no beds?  And I just can’t understand why some of the shelters charge $7-$10 a day to get a bed and at some shelters the   residents have to provide meals for themselves.

 Most shelters have other organizations that they have a partnership with and those organizations can pay for a resident’s fee for one week.  After that you are on your own.  While I was in Atlanta I learned of a non-profit agency, Traveler’s Aid ----an organization that provides funds for lodging, transportation assistance, employment assistance and first month and security deposit. However, this program is only for someone from another city or state. Travelers’ Aid gives the displaced individual or family a choice for the agency to pay for the person(s) to relocate back home or they will assist them in the city of Atlanta.

Yes, there are community events but the homeless are not allowed to participate.  The police will ask them to leave, people will physically bully them, calling them drunks, base heads, bums, crazies or saying “No bag ladies allowed.”  I can’t understand why there are so many homeless people sleeping on the streets in Atlanta.  The city with lots of money and with individuals earning an income $500,000 and more a year, how can they ignore homeless people? Every day I was in Atlanta I saw women with children and men lying on the ground, sitting in parks begging for food, or water or a fresh pair of clothes or shoes for themselves or their children.  I saw homeless people in parking lots of stores, lying on the bare ground with the odor of urine and feces on the sizzling hot ground, and tents set up with all the personal belongings in Downtown Atlanta or in the back of abandoned buildings.  Through out the day, individuals from the suburbs feed the homeless, pass out bottle water and bring blankets.

BUT, the streets are a jungle in Atlanta. I have seen a homeless teen get jumped by four other teen boys when leaving a homeless shelter.” You bum, you stink. I bet you hungry, I know yo momma must be po’, is she a crack head?” they said before beating the young person.  I have seen a young homeless woman ask a man for directions. She had a baby in the stroller with two bags one on each handle, 2 bags under the stroller and a book bag on her back and a boy walking with her that appeared to about 5 years old. The man she asked directions from was trying to give her a ride.  When she refused the ride, he got out the car and called her vulgar names, took her stroller and threw it on the ground with her baby still in the stroller.

One day I was volunteering at a local shelter and it was raining outside all morning and afternoon. There was a woman and her two  year old daughter and six year old son outside. This family had to stand outside because one of the rules of the shelter was that the residents must be diligently seeking employment beginning at 6 am every weekday.  This woman did not have any cash on hand and did not know any one in the local area; she was from New Orleans, LA.  I gave the woman $9 to get an all day bus pass to go to the day shelter, where she her and her family can eat a meal, get dry, and access resources for her current situation.

 I was in midtown Atlanta at Centennial Park, and there were three homeless men sitting on the bench talking to one another. One guy walked over to the water fountain and a black police officer hit him in his back and then his leg, telling him he could not drink from the fountain.  One night walking to the MARTA train station from Auburn Ave. towards downtown, I saw the many homeless sit up under the bridge with the birds and other stray animals; the homeless will use the bathroom and sleep under the same bridge. This saddens me because all the restaurants in the area will tell the homeless people in order for them to use the rest room they have to purchase something.

On a Friday evening a blue van pulled up with two adults and two youth with food in containers.  It appeared to be about 25 dinners and bottled water. I stopped and asked if I could help them serve the homeless because I enjoy serving people.  So, we all served the people under the bridge and gave them each a hug.  I stayed while the others left. Nearby were two local bars and people were leaving.  A few men and women came under the bridge and took peoples waters and poured them out and dumped the containers of food onto the ground. The  attackers was shouting, “y’all homeless people need to get the out of our hood-- laying around, go get a job, over to yo’ fam or friends house , we don’t want y’all bums out here kicking them.” If the police ask a homeless person to move from the area where they are standing, sitting or laying and the person does not move fast enough they will be arrested.

I have volunteered for the Metro Atlanta Task force for the homeless, and what I learned is that homeless people are required to obtain a referral to receive any assistance, even for a visit to the homeless health clinic. What concerns me the most is if a shelter does not have any beds available, where does a family in need turn to? Keep in mind there are no low –income housing programs in the city of Atlanta and there is not help with income base housing program, however there is assistance with furniture and first month rent and security deposit that Cleveland does not have.

While there is no enjoyment in being homeless, I have experience with homelessness in two cities, Atlanta and Cleveland.  If I had pick between the two, I would rather be in Cleveland, Ohio.

Finally, everyone in all communities should gain knowledge about homelessness and get involved in helping end homelessness in Cleveland, Ohio. Stay prayerful, encourage others and be motivated to work toward justice.

Editor’s Notes:  Simona lived in Atlanta and became homeless.  She moved back to Cleveland and is searching for housing locally.  Currently, she volunteers for the Homeless Coalition while looking for stability.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle August 2013 Cleveland, Ohio