Homelessness in Athens Becoming a Continuous ProblemPosted: March 26, 2013
By: Yasmeen Freightman
Paul Nelson had been homeless for over seven years. In those seven years, he had been to the hospital and rehabilitation more times than he can count on both hands for addiction to drugs. Today, three years later, he only seeks to guide more of the homeless off the streets.
Homelessness has been a continuous problem in Athens and it is only growing. According to the 2009 Annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count done by Athens officials, 72% of homeless individuals in Athens claimed Athens as their origin of homelessness. Of those counted, 49% claimed no income source. Since 2009, these statistics have only increased.
Two of the chief homeless centers in Athens are the Athens Area Homeless Shelter and the Healing Place of Athens. The Athens Area Homeless Shelter is a transitional shelter for women and dependent children. The AAHS does depend on community donations for 1/3 of its total budget that goes to its transitional housing program, but most of their programs are almost exclusively funded in part by state and federal grants.
Katie Smith, the shelter director of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, says that AAHS offers several forms of assistance to the homeless. These include the Almost Home Transitional Housing Program, the JobTREC employment program and the rapid re-housing program.
“With our three programs we provide assistance utilizing all resources available to us and have allocated our funding streams to allow us to provide transitional shelter as well as re-housing and employability programs rather than only focusing on one method of homeless assistance,” Smith says.
Smith also says that without either community contributions or government grants, all of the programs would be negatively impacted.
“Through the DCA Emergency Solutions Grant, we have funded the Going Home program for 28 families this year and through the HUD Supportive Housing Programs grant we have provided JobTREC services for over 150 individuals in 2012,” Smith says. “It is extremely unlikely that community contributions could take the place of these grants, which make up over half of our annual budget.”
The JobTREC employment program is an employment assistance agency for homeless people in Athens, where the main goal as a program is to eliminate the barriers that homeless clients face when trying to find employment, whether it is financial, transportation, or skill-related. In 2012, JobTREC served 194 clients.
Greg Purser, the JobTREC case manager of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, says that JobTREC teaches clients about the atmosphere of professionalism and generally has anywhere from 20-40 active clients at one time.
“Some examples of things that we assist with are: obtaining IDs and birth certificates, constructing professional resumes, vouchers for interview clothing, bus passes for job searching, online application assistance, and also work uniform and clothing purchases,” Purser says.
Purser also says that most clients have found jobs in a range of work fields, but there are certain barriers that most homeless mothers undergo when looking for work that mothers who live in AAHS do not have to experience.
“The mothers at AAHS do have slightly different assistance than other clients in JobTREC, one of the most beneficial being daycare services, which are paid for by the shelter,” Purser says. “This generally seems to be one of the biggest barriers to homeless mothers finding employment because they can get stuck in a loop of not being able to find work without daycare and not being able to pay for daycare without employment. In the past few months we have had a variety of jobs that the mother’s have obtained including some restaurant work, sales, and a hospital CNA.”
For a look at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hOpJ3qtOpM.
Even with these programs readily available to Athens’ homeless still on the streets, homelessness continues to increase. Katie Smith attributes the continuity of the problem to the some homeless’ mental health issues and resources that are not readily available to them. In fact, 56% of homeless people are diagnosed with mental health illnesses, 33% are currently or in the past have had a substance abuse problem and 18% are homeless as a result of domestic violence.
“Homeless individuals in Athens often choose not to participate in programs, have undiagnosed mental health conditions, or have reached the maximum time limits that many of the programs in Athens have based on their grant funding policies and procedures,” Smith says. “Additionally, there is just simply not enough bed space in the shelters available in Athens.”
Greg Purser believes that homelessness within Athens is an increasing problem because many cannot find jobs due to the economy along with other issues.
“Although one of the main ways to assist with sheltering more homeless people in Athens is to have more shelter beds available, which is currently being worked on with planned additions to both the Salvation Army shelter and AAHS, homelessness is still a much larger problem than just having a bed available,” Purser says. “As you are probably aware, finding employment can be a difficult task for anyone in the economy that we have been having and this difficulty is increased exponentially by not having a stable place to call home, not having reliable transportation to look for or go to work, not having a phone number to even receive call backs from possible employers, and many other issues facing the majority of unemployed homeless individuals.”
Smith says that building more facilities can compromise for the amount of bed space that the shelters in Athens do not have, which can pacify the issue of homeless on the streets. “…there is just simply not enough bed space in the shelters available in Athens. The HPC is working to alleviate this issue of space, but building of new facilities takes time and resources that are limited in the community,” Smith says.
Purser believes that if homeless assistance programs continue to progress and develop, more of the homeless on Athens’ streets can and will be reached out to.
“…one thing I have learned while working with JobTREC has been that there are as many different causes of homelessness as there are homeless,” Purser says. “If we continue to focus on services that assist with the entire spectrum of homeless problems and continue to provide assistance with housing and employment, then we should be able to hope to see a real impact in the amount of people that face homelessness in our area and also a decrease in time spent without housing.”