Atlanta's New Homeless Registry

11:07 PM, Jan 18, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- When most of us are asleep, there are others of us who dare not close their eyes. For fear they might not open again.

The shadows of the city are literally teeming with the homeless; and when the temperatures plummet, you can die in the cold.

It is 2 o'clock in the morning on a weeknight, and dozens of volunteers prepare to hit the street to help create the first-ever registry of Atlanta homeless.

"We do it in the middle of the night because we want to make sure that someone actually is homeless that they are unsheltered sleeping on the street," said Susan Lampley, project officer for the Homeless Initiative.

Lampley works in the mayor's office. So do others who are volunteering on this night. That's because Kasim Reed has made the registry a priority.

The teams will sweep out to different areas of the city where the homeless congregate. They will learn from them why they are here and what they need to reconnect with society. More than 150 volunteers helped identify nearly 400 people with no place to stay.

"You'd be surprised how many people engage with us," said Lampley. "We want to know them because we want to know how many of them are at risk of dying on the street, prioritize them for homing, and connect them with services."

The volunteers are accompanied by outreach professionals and police. One team has chosen the Garnett Street MARTA station where many homeless have gathered in the bitter cold.

Among those they find there is Damon Smith.

"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," said Smith. "I have arthritis. Last night for me was brutal to be out here and stuff like that."

The registry will learn that divorce, a lost job, and a brush with the law decades ago have now conspired to put Smith on the street. A positive outlook and the occasional odd job are not enough to find a place to stay.

So for now, he will wrap himself in a blanket and he will walk, arthritis and all, to generate enough heat to survive the night.
"I never thought that I would come to this situation," said Smith.

"Being out here like this. Everyday I'm hoping and praying that this nightmare will end."

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