Rise in homelessness follows U.S. trend

On any given night in Athens, Ga., there are 100 to 500 homeless individuals looking for a place to sleep, according to a University of Georgia campus campaign known as Host. Nourish. Sustain.

Athens is a city that 114,737 people call home, according to a Kiplinger magazine article, but the city is no exception to the rise in homelessness that is occurring across the nation.  In 2006, data from the ACC department of Human and Economic Development reported the number of identified homeless individual grew 180 percent in the recent years.

With the recession taking its effect, it is predicted that 1.5 million people will become homeless across the nation over the next two years, according to Host. Nourish. Sustain.  Currently, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people throughout America are considered to be homeless, the campaign reports.

The federal definition of a homeless person is an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, according to the McKinney Act of 1987.  (SEE BOX)

Many Americans are less than two paychecks away from finding themselves unable to pay rent.  A recent study reported by a Business Journal article, revealed that 47 percent of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck in order to make ends meet.

Danny Bivins works with Athens-Clarke County through a comprehensive planning process to coordinate and work with government agencies and non-profit groups.  He describes his job as helping people envision their future and then helping them create it.

“Athens must be looked at through the social services lens,” said Bivins.  “[It] is a metropolitan area and has plenty of social services within the community.  If you’re going to be an impoverished person, it’s much better to do so in Athens than it would be in some of the surrounding counties.”

“Rarely is homelessness a direct correlation to housing,” said Bivins.  “There are also mental and healthcare issues.  It’s not necessarily an economic question; there are other factors, too.”

“Homelessness is not just about having a place to live, but it’s a state of mind and state of being where there is a disconnect and feeling of alienation,” said Donna Bliss, University of Georgia professor at the School of Social Work.

Across the nation, there are movements and campaigns to raise awareness about homelessness as a means to reduce the stigmas attached to homeless individuals.

Last year, 12-year-old, Zach Bonner walked 1,225 miles from Florida to the White House on behalf of homeless children.  On Dec. 25th, 2009, Bonner, began a second trek consisting of 2,478 miles from Florida to California to help spread the word about homelessness and ways to contribute to the cause.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness works to put an end to homelessness by building and disseminating knowledge that informs policy change, according to their Web site.  They provide comprehensive strategies to eradicate homelessness, which include 234 completed community plans to help reduce and eliminate the number of homeless people across the country.

In Athens, an effort is also being made to address the homeless situation and identify solutions to the problem.  Athens is a microcosm of several causes to becoming homeless, said Bliss.

There are several organizations and campaigns to specifically identify and attempt to resolve the homelessness and poverty issue that is prevalent in Athens-Clarke County.

On the University of Georgia campus, Host. Nourish. Sustain. is a movement to implement the concept of good old, southern hospitality as a “recipe to fight homelessness in Athens,” according to their tag line.

The Host. Nourish. Sustain. campaign has a goal to invite volunteers in the community to alleviate the issue of homelessness by hosting, nourishing and sustaining homeless families in order to improve their situation and achieve long-term independence.

“The campaign is intended to dispel common myths and stereotypes, said spokesperson reigning Ms. Georgia, Laura Lyn McLeod, “to create a better understanding of reality of the situation.”

Year after year, Athens is one of Georgia’s consistently poorest counties with a poverty rate of 28.3 percent. In Athens-Clarke County, the cost of living is between $11 and $13 an hour.  This type of pay is difficult to find, especially if you don’t have an address.

Lynne Griever, Faces of the Homeless Speakers Bureau, found herself with no place to live as a result of domestic violence and was not able to get the help and police protection she needed.  Despite the common myths associated with being homeless, Griever said, “There was no use of drugs or alcohol, and I was not lazy.”  Griever said she learned firsthand that you can work really, really hard and not be able to get into housing.

In Athens-Clarke, 65 percent of all families that live in poverty are working in the community, which is 12.1 percent greater than the state as whole.

OneAthens is taking action to end poverty in Athens and works as “Partners for a Prosperous Athens” within the community.

Since their inception in 2006, their Web site lists that OneAthens main initiatives include creating jobs and career readiness, building community infrastructure, promoting health and wellness and increasing capacity and accessibility of needed services.  Their vision is to “unite the community in identifying and removing barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty.”

The inability to afford housing is rising across the country, and is increasingly prevalent in Athens, efforts are being made throughout the city of Athens to identify the cause, eliminate the stigma and reduce the number of homeless individuals.

Box:

The definition also states that a person is homeless if they have a primary nighttime residence that is:

A. A supervised, publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide

temporary living accommodations,

B. An institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to

be institutionalized,

C. Or,  a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as regular

sleeping accommodation for human beings.


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