Jan 12, 2023 - News

Atlanta prepares for annual homelessness census

Several people wearing Covid masks and reflective vests stand in front of a white van at night before conducting a census of homeless people

Credit: Courtesy of Partners for Home

Atlanta and homeless service agencies are prepping for one of their most important annual projects: counting how many people are living on the streets, in encampments, under bridges and in other areas.

  • Those officials are asking for your help.

Driving the news: Starting Jan. 24, workers with agencies in Atlanta, Fulton County and other groups will fan out across the city — some by foot, some by car — with roughly 200 volunteers to conduct an annual census of people experiencing unsheltered and sheltered homelessness.

  • Called the Point-In-Time count, the census starts with a single nighttime count of people. Workers then spend several days at soup kitchens, churches that provide mailboxes or meals, and other service providers.

Why it matters: The count is an estimate that gives policymakers a sense of who needs services and how much, and whether their strategies to reduce homelessness are making progress, Cathryn Vassell, the CEO of Partners for Home, told Axios. Partners for Home is a nonprofit overseeing the city's homeless response programs.

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that distributes funding for homelessness programs, requires local governments and agencies to conduct the count at least every other year.

What they're saying: "This gives us better insight into the number of people experiencing homelessness on one night of the year, on their length of homelessness, their history of homelessness and some other challenges and barriers that they might be facing," Vassell said. "It's a data snapshot that helps inform our work."

By the numbers: Despite an obvious rise in the number of tents under bridges and encampments along interstates, homelessness in Atlanta has decreased over the years, from 3,572 in 2017 to 2,017 in 2022.

Yes, but: Over the years, some local advocates for people experiencing homelessness have critiqued the count of missing people sleeping in cars, wooded areas, or other places that might be harder to reach.

What we're watching: Whether the legislation that comes out of a Gold Dome study committee is focused on short-term gains in reducing numbers or addressing systemic issues that contribute to homelessness.

Get involved: Sign up to volunteer and receive more information in Atlanta or Fulton County.


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