Atlanta City Council approves $26 million bonds to go towards homelessness project

The Atlanta City Council (ACC) voted unanimously recently to allocate $26 million in bonds to help finance a project aimed at homelessness, achieving a promise made by Atlanta’s mayor Kasim Reed during this year’s State of the City address.

“Since the year 2013, we have seen a 52 percent decrease in the number of unsheltered homeless individuals; a 61 percent decrease in the number of chronically homeless individuals; and a 62 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans in our City,” Mayor Reed said in this year’s State of the City address.

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle (ABC), the bonds will be matched by a $26 million donation from the United Way of Greater Atlanta (UWGA), a philanthropic community company fueled by volunteers and donors that focus on education, financial stability and health. UWGA will leverage an additional $66 million, making a total investment of more than $115 million.

ACC member, Michael Bond said Mayor Reed is the person who proposed the idea for the bonds allocated towards homelessness.

“He was approached by the philanthropic community because they had done a similar bond a few years ago,” Bond said. “He negotiated with the philanthropic community that the city would raise a portion and that they would raise the rest.”

As reported by the ABC, during the next three years, the funds will be utilized in providing 364 new emergency shelter beds, placing 500 persistently homeless people in permanent housing, providing permanent housing for 300 homeless families and performing housing interventions for 254 homeless young people.

“I have and will continue to support well-crafted efforts to reduce our homeless population.  Homelessness should not be hopelessness,” councilman Howard Shook said.

According to Bond, the number of added emergency shelter beds and housing placements will be operated in homeless shelters that already exist, meaning there is no current plan for new shelters to be built along with this plan.

Bond said the housing interventions for homeless youth will be executed by the service providers that are currently providing a similar service and have a proven track record.

“When you get these grant funds, you have to demonstrate that you have a successful history of providing a service. I think that’s why primarily, most of these funds are going to go to existing programs,” Bond said. “Over the course of the years, new programs will come along and receive some of the funding. I think the initial distribution will be existing [programs].”

Whether families in need of housing are put in existing shelters or set up to be able to buy a home, Bond said it depends on the circumstances of the family and which program they are applying for.

“We’ve got down payment assistance and typically find those folks who apply for that are not in the homeless category,” Bond said.

Councilwoman Cleta Winslow said the bonds are “needed because we’re closing down [the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter] and we need to be able to provide some services in an ongoing fashion.” Winslow said discussion about the bonds began last year, when Mayor Reed brought the idea to the council members.

The ACC will float a bond, a form of municipal financing, to raise the funds and will pay it off from distributions from tax-allocation districts and general fund dollars.

A tax-allocation district is created for the purpose of catalyzing investment by funding certain redevelopment activities in underdeveloped or blighted areas using public dollars, according to Invest Atlanta.

The July 11 surfacing of a cell phone video showing a DeKalb County police officer striking a homeless woman with his baton during an arrest has led to more public discussion about the issue of homelessness in Atlanta.

Winslow said since council discussion about the bonds began last year, the bonds are not a reaction to this event.

“We’ve been dealing with the homeless for 30 years in Atlanta, since 1984,” Winslow said. “This is not a reaction to that particular thing.”

The city council bonds act as an opportunity to end chronic homelessness in Atlanta.

“We’re all trying to work together to provide needed services all the way around so that we can help put people back in society in a productive way, [and] get them as far into productivity as we can,” Winslow said. “I think there’s an opportunity to do that and I feel good that we can provide housing and counseling and all those kind of things that they need.”