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Homelessness in Atlanta

The Hidden Epidemic

Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Updated: Saturday, October 10, 2009 10:10

What do cancer, obesity, heart disease and homelessness have in common? All four of these diseases currently plague our society in epic proportions. While the nation directs its attention to cancer, obesity, and heart disease, the rising prevalence of homelessness is often overlooked.

Here in the city of Atlanta, homelessness is becoming a serious epidemic. Some experts estimate that anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 people become homeless each day. With only 2,600 shelter beds available in the city, several thousand homeless Atlantans have nowhere to sleep at night.

Homeless parents often find themselves in an even more undesirable situation. Not only are they unable find a safe place to sleep, but they must also watch their children suffer sleep in the streets. This situation is not uncommon as children are the fastest growing demographic among homeless people.

Many people suffer from the misconception that homeless people are too lazy to work or addicted to drugs. However, this epidemic has several causes. Many homeless people are victims of job loss, physical illness, domestic violence, and even natural disasters.

Disturbingly, the government does little to reduce or prevent homelessness. Oftentimes, homeless people are arrested because of the mere fact that they are homeless. Known as the criminalization of homelessness, these discriminatory acts of the government include creating ordinances that prevent homeless people from sleeping in a park, on a public bench, or under a public bridge.

Because Georgia State University is an urban campus, students encounter homeless people asking them for money on a daily basis. However, many of these students refuse to give in to common stereotypes. Instead, they understand that homelessness can affect anybody at any given time and they feel that they have a responsibility to aid in solving this growing problem in their area.

The Office of Civic Engagement at Georgia State University oversees several different community service organizations on campus, some of which are addressing the issue of homelessness. Members of Circle K, one of those such organizations, volunteer to feed the homeless at the St. Francis Table Soup Kitchen. Panther Breakaway, another student organization, spends their spring break volunteering to help ease the strife of homeless people.

During the spring of 2008, Georgia State students and staff members traveled to Washington D.C. to provide job training to homeless adults as well as tutoring services to homeless children. They also assisted at a food pantry. The participants in this program also spoke to politicians in D.C., encouraging them to help homeless men and women in Atlanta.

Also, every year the Office of Civic Engagement teams up with the Office of Student Life and Leadership, particularly Intercultural Relations, to host an event called Project Empty Bowls. During this event, participants hear a guest speaker talk about poverty and engage in roundtable debate. Each table discusses certain statistics on hunger and homelessness with the goal of educating the public.

Simultaneously, these offices hold an auction selling ceramic bowls to benefit an organization that fights against poverty, particularly those providing services to the homeless. Task Force for the Homeless, Atlanta Union Mission, and the Atlanta Community Food Bank are among the organizations aided by the auction in the past.

Many outside organizations are now uniting to address this epidemic as well. The Task Force for the Homeless provides a range of services which include feeding programs, transportation assistance and shelter referrals through a 24-hour hotline.

Due to the generosity of various donors, the Task Force also provides dental hygiene supplies, toiletries and MARTA cards for the people that they serve. Like any successful nonprofit organization, Task Force for the Homeless actively recruits volunteers in order to provide the services necessary for the people they assist.

The Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children, Genesis Shelter, the Samaritan House, Gateway, and Atlanta Children's Shelter (a daycare center for homeless children) are also teaming up to help homeless men and women in Atlanta. The Samaritan House and the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children help homeless people reestablish themselves by offering job training workshops such as computer classes and interview preparation. The Atlanta Children's Shelter teaches homeless children to read because combating illiteracy is another way to address poverty.

As the homelessness epidemic continues to grow, and more and more people are becoming aware of the problem, society is finally beginning to lend a hand in the effort to end the crisis. However, much more could be done to aid homeless people within the city of Atlanta.

To find out about homeless service providers in the city of Atlanta, visit http://www.atlantachildrensshelter.com/partners.html. For more information on the Task Force for the Homeless, you can visit www.homelesstaskforce.org. If you are homeless or know somebody that is, please call the Task Force 24-hour hotline at 1-800-448-0636.

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