The five Atlanta mayoral candidates Council President Felicia Moore, Atlanta city councilmen Andre Dickens and Antonio Brown, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and attorney Sharon Gay answer questions on homelessness.
QUESTION: Many cities have dedicated revenue streams in addition to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding. How would you add additional dedicated funding for homelessness?
Antonio Brown -The funding is not based on the homeless count. It looks like it’s funded based on the population in the cities and not necessarily directly correlated to the homeless. We need to change that to ensure that Atlanta is getting a fair share of our federal funding to ensure that we’re addressing our unsheltered population in Atlanta.
Felicia Moore – This is a multifaceted issue that needs partners. The funding for mental health, drug, and alcohol abuse should be coming from state and county coffers. We need to lean heavily on our state government to step up to the plate. I believe through our grant fund and general fund, we can find additional dollars. Also, looking outside city government at our philanthropic community, churches, and nonprofits there are more resources.
Kasim Reed – We are going to work collaboratively with Fulton County, the state, and the federal government in a way that we haven’t done before. I think our homeless housing revenue stream should be tied to our building permits and construction sector, and we should tie a permanent revenue stream to that funding process. The City should identify $2 million in guaranteed ongoing support over the next 10 years to directly support leading homeless organizations.
Sharon Gay -The state has a huge surplus. We need to seek more funding from the state legislative delegation, and more funds from the Biden administration for hard infrastructure but also people infrastructure.
Andre Dickens – We have a successful strategy with PAD, Housing First, Clear Path, and Continuum of Care, we just need more money. These groups are data-driven and can communicate to the HUD Secretary, elected federal officials, and the Biden administration that this $8.4 million is not enough money. We already have the strategy, mechanism, and leadership and we can get more funding based on our demonstrated good use of funds already.
QUESTION: How do we reduce the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness and how law enforcement interacts with the unsheltered?
Felicia Moore – I will have a 911 system for homeless people that is separate from the police that can respond to mental health issues or behavioral issues. If the police do have to interact with homeless folks, I want Police Assisted Diversion (PAD) and other crisis interventionists to help, as well as, train officers on the best way to approach them.
Kasim Reed – I will follow the model of San Francisco. We need a care team approach that is staffed by folks with a background of interacting with folks that may have psychological challenges. The police can call these Care Teams when they encounter someone having mental health issues. The Care Team would be associated with Atlanta Police Department (APD) but separate from APD.
Sharron Gay – I would look at our city ordinances to make sure they are not criminalizing homelessness. Instead of taking the homeless to jail for violations like public urination, we need to provide 24/7 public toilets and other services to deal with a crisis that happens at night and on the weekend.
We need to train the police and give them the resources and equipment to do their job. Not ask the police to do what mental health and social service professionals ought to do.
Andre Dickens- I see this as 5 steps that include listening, collaboration, training, leadership, and funding. 1. Listen to PAD’s policy that is a better and more humane way to deal with homelessness. 2. Collaboration getting all the different agencies together. 3, Train the police differently with 21st Century Policing Policies which is the way of the future. 4. Leadership will communicate these visions so all the elements will fall into place. 5. Funding needs to be tripled so we can have 24/7 services and a 311 number to help homeless folks get to triage and be taken care of properly.
Antonio Brown – We know the police are not trained to deal with mental health issues, social services issues, and substance abuse issues. We need to continue our PAD program and enact a municipal ID program that works with all our service providers so when people come in through the system they get the wraparounds services they need.
Later this week or early next week, I will publish part two on homelessness in Atlanta as unsheltered people ask the mayoral candidates questions.
Written and photos by Gloria Tatum