DeKalb County has only three warming centers for homeless people. One in the Avondale area, and two in South DeKalb County. Homeless people have to take a train, a bus and walk a mile to get to a warning center in extremely cold and/or freezing weather and many don’t have money for the train or bus.
Those that are fortunate to get to a warming center in DeKalb County will find no food, no water, and not even a cot to sleep on and may be turned away because it is full. Over 300 unsheltered people are on a waitlist for shelter. The system is not working for too many unsheltered people.
A homeless man once told this reporter “People treat their dogs better than us.” The homeless crisis in DeKalb County, Fulton County, and the United States is a human rights issue.
Because of this homeless crisis and the inhuman conditions they live in, a group of interfaith leaders gathered in Decatur to make the following demands on CEO Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb County Commissioners, and the City of Decatur Commissioners.
Their demands include opening additional warming centers in the north and central parts of the County. Offer food, water, and cots at the warming centers. Provide the community with at least 48 hours’ notice when centers will be open. Provide transportation to ensure all in need can find shelter. Increase the wraparound services to help people get back on their feet. Address the more than 300 people on a waiting list for permanent shelter.
“CEO Michael Thurman, wake up and do better. You are in a position of leadership to spend our tax dollars in a very meaningful way…when it comes to sheltering those who are in need,” Phil Coffey, Co-Chair of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, Steering Committee Member for the Coalition for Diverse Decatur https://diversedekalb.org/ said.
“We’re not coming here begging. We’re just asking for new prioritization of how our dollars are being spent. And we want to make sure that some of our dollars are being spent to take care of our homeless brothers and sisters,” Rev. Tim McDonald, long-time human rights activist, and Pastor, First Iconium Baptist Church. said.
“I am told all the time that in order to open more shelters, we’ve got to find some money. I’ve been hearing that excuse for 27 years, they got the money, they just got to care,” Rev. Paul Turner, Founder and Pastor, Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, said.
For years the fallback excuse for not doing more for the unhoused is not enough money.
Coffey explains that DeKalb does have the money, “We all should know that DeKalb County has money in the form of the American Rescue Plan. Those funds have $7 million just sitting waiting for guidelines. They say they want guidelines. We’re here to give them guidelines today. Meet all demands to house our brothers and sisters who are unhoused.”
The interfaith leaders are asking for the Commissioners to introduce legislation to shelter homeless people and they plan to do whatever is necessary to make this happen, even if that means going to jail to raise awareness of the issue.
So many people are homeless because they are mentally ill and/or have addiction problems. DeKalb County needs more mental health clinics and drug rehabilitation clinics that are easy to access. Some people who are mentally ill refuse help. However, freezing to death or jail are not good alternatives for the severely mentally ill who can’t take care of themselves and are too delusional to accept help.
The unsheltered come from every age, race, class, and educational level. Many people are just a few paychecks or a major medical problem away from being homeless.
Homeless people face all kinds of dangers from having their few meager belongings stolen, beaten, stabbed, raped, going hungry, not having access to restrooms or showers, to freezing to death. People living outside can get hypothermia at 50 degrees, especially if it is raining and the wind is blowing.
There are many homeless people that have not been counted, those sleeping on the streets are only the tip of the iceberg. Many more are sleeping in abandoned buildings, behind stores, under bridges, empty houses, in cars, in tents, camping in wooded areas, extended stay motels, sleeping on someone’s sofa or hiding because of minor violations associated with being homeless, and fear of being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
DeKalb County has a homeless crisis but also a housing crisis. “DeKalb County has over 4,600 hundred vouchers for affordable housing and the waitlist is 45,000 thousand. In the City of Decatur there are about 500 affordable units that are available and over 12,000 on the waitlist,” Coffey said.
Many homeless people work but don’t make enough money to afford a place to live. In the Atlanta area, rent is from $1,200 to $2,000 a month for a one or two-bedroom apartment. In Georgia, minimum wage workers make $7.25 an hour, or $1,160 a month.
DeKalb continues to stall on more warming centers and improvements to current warming centers despite public outcry, all while temperatures continue to drop and unhoused residents are sleeping outside in freezing weather.
Attorney Mawuli Davis said, “Got to make it uncomfortable for these elected officials, as uncomfortable as it is for someone to have to sleep out in the cold in freezing temperatures.”
Better yet, why don’t our elected officials spend a few cold, wet and windy nights sleeping outside to better understand the crisis conditions homeless people are living in and trying to survive.
Make your voice heard for the unsheltered by calling or emailing:
Michale Thurmond, Chief Executive Officer of DeKalb County 404-371-2882 or CEOMichaelThurmond@DeKalbCountyGA.gov
Your DeKalb County Commissioners
City of Decatur Commissioners
Joseph Cox, Director of DeKalb Emergency Management Agency 770-270-0413 or DeKalbEMA@DeKalbCountyGA.gov
This problem is not unique to DeKalb; it exists in Fulton County, the City of Atlanta, and all over the United States. It is past time for the wealthiest people in the richest country in the world to pay their taxes to help those less fortunate who are homeless.
The wealthiest 1% of Americans controlled about $41.52 trillion in the first quarter of 2021, according to the federal Reserve date. This income inequality in the U.S. is obscene.
If the U.S. government can afford to give tax breaks to multi-millionaires and billionaires who don’t need the money, then the government can afford to take care of our unsheltered brothers and sisters. It is a moral responsibility for the government to provide shelter for the homeless and healthcare for the poor because housing and healthcare are human rights. No one should freeze to death nor die from lack of healthcare in DeKalb County, the State of Georgia, or the United States.
Written and photos by Gloria Tatum