As Georgia State students, it is hard for us to overlook the homeless population in Atlanta. Georgia State’s Downtown campus is in Atlanta’s heart, and its community includes the homeless population.
Being backed into an unfortunate situation is usually not in our control; those who are fortunate enough to find themselves comfortable should not be judging those who are not. Helping the homeless, especially in times of hardship, is not giving out “handouts” or aiding their desire to be “bums.” They are not always people who face the consequences of poor choices, and they most certainly are not a group of people removed from our society.
COVID -19 impacted some more than others, and the homeless population is one of those communities that is most vulnerable to the pandemic.
So, to hear that on Jan. 30, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District Ambassador Force told the nonprofit organization, Atlanta Justice Alliance, to stop serving the homeless community in Woodruff Park was astounding.
They told the alliance to stop their services in a letter reported on by The Signal to “positively impact the course of the viral pandemic..”
The nonprofit organization responded: “We refuse. We will be there next Saturday, just like we have been all along. Respectfully, kiss our a-s.”
While this letter intends to protect the homeless from the spread of the virus since contracting it could devastate their community, it is also audacious.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD, released its annual homelessness assessment report on March 18, finding that 580,466 people were homeless in a single night during 2020. The report shows a 2.2% increase from the previous year.
The HUD report includes an analysis of homelessness in the following categories: homelessness among all people, chronic, unsheltered, family, veteran and homelessness among people of color.
Various factors contribute to homelessness, such as unaffordable housing, unemployment, poverty, mental illness, substance abuse and lack of services.
An additional agitation to the influx of homelessness in the U.S. is the COVID-19 pandemic. Around this time last year, many of us found ourselves with new realities, and for some, the transition was not as simple as moving back home with our families.
Many faced unemployment, which may have stressed already tense financial situations.
We have opened most, if not all, retail, local business, restaurants, entertainment, religious institutions and personal care facilities with minimal to no restrictions. In Georgia, masks are not mandatory, only advised. And many businesses are operating at total capacity.
Schools are urged to open, with guidelines, but still open to entire operations. These guidelines include and are not limited to riding buses, lunches and recesses that could risk the pandemic’s spread.
However, we reject the most vulnerable sect of our society. Why should there not be extensive guidelines, such as those at our schools?
The homeless are punished because they neither contribute nor benefit from economic activity.
It’s important to remember that we could find ourselves in positions similar to those we judge or those we refuse to aid at any moment in our lives.