ATLANTA -- The City of Atlanta is looking for volunteers for a tough job on the streets later this week: make contact with every single homeless person in the city, in one 12-hour period.
The goal -- ultimately -- is to help the homeless move off of the streets, once and for all.
It is an ambitious and unprecedented mission for the city.
For 12 hours, from 6 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday, the city is going to send volunteers out into the streets, with police escort, to try to get a head-count of every single homeless person within the city limits that night and morning.
But that's not all.
The volunteers will offer the homeless people gift cards for food, and try to get to know each one of them by name, and try to learn what put them on the streets, find out if they want to get help, and find out what treatment or other assistance they might need.
"It will be a snapshot, it's a first step," said Reese McCranie of the Mayor's Office Monday afternoon.
McCranie said the initial goal is a big one -- to place 800 people in permanent housing by the end of the year.
"We want to put everyone that we can on a path to sustainable housing."
For information on how to volunteer during 12 hours Thursday night and Friday morning:
The city is spending money from a private grant for the project, not tax money.
But the head of the homeless shelter at Peachtree and Pine thinks the city is wasting that grant money.
Anita Beaty said Monday that the various shelters in town can already provide the city with all the information the city needs on thousands of homeless people, in order to place 800 of them into homes.
"So it seems to me to be a waste of time and energy and money," Beaty said. "But if anybody gets housed as a result of it, it'll be worth it."
The city sees the registry as an on-going project to lead everyone away from the street they're on, onto the street that leads them to a real home.
Comments from Reese McCranie, Mayor's Office, Monday, January 14, 2013
It's the first time the City of Atlanta has ever done anything like this. And we're doing something more than just going out and counting those who are homeless one-by-one. We're actually going to be speaking to them individually, finding out what their specific needs are, and, hopefully, at some point, matching resources, available resources, with those specific needs.
Last time the homeless population in Atlanta was counted, it was two years ago. And there were 5,000 individuals who were homeless....
We're going to be all over the city limits....
So Thursday night from 6pm to midnight we'll be [counting] inside the homeless shelters.... And then Friday morning, midnight to 6am Friday morning of this week, we'll actually be out on the street.
Not everyone who's homeless lives in a shelter. The fact of the matter is, the resources that we have right now for the shelters in Atlanta are already strained. And because of that people live under bridges, under overpasses....
It will be a snapshot, it's a first step. And it's one step beyond what we did two years ago when we just, essentially, went out there and counted one, two, three, four, five thousand homeless people. And so what we want to do now is specifically see what the actual needs are for those who are homeless.
The overall goal is to reduce street homelessness by a sizable amount.
Everyone has a specific need in the city who's living on the streets, whether it's mental illness issues, or substance abuse problems, or homeless because they've fallen behind on their bills. And so we think that there are resources out there that can help those individuals.
We want to put everyone that we can on a path to sustainable housing. And that's a real goal in effort behind this effort right now.
The city is partnering with Hands on Atlanta, the Downtown Improvement District, United Way and others agencies, and the money for the project is coming from the Bloomberg Philanthropy Grant of $3.3 million that the City received.
Comments from Anita Beaty, Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, Monday, January 14, 2013
The people that they find on Thursday night won't be the same people who'll be homeless by the time they're ready to put 800 of them into those units. If the city were ready with 800 units to put people in tomorrow, all of the agencies who work with people are ready to provide them with access to people who qualify for those units, immediately.... They don't need to come into our facilities [or other homeless facilities] to do a new registry of the homeless because everybody already does their own.
The main thing is, if they really have these 800 units, and they're ready now, and if this is not just a PR sort of exercise, then they should make the units available at a place where we can send people right away. They don't have to come out and recruit a whole bunch of volunteers to go into all these facilities.
We know who the homeless are, those inside and outside the shelters. We do the outreach and the intakes on our own, we have our own case workers, we can supply the city with information and with the people who qualify for whatever housing or whatever programs that they have available....
That information [that they'll be compiling Thursday and Friday] is outdated the minute those folks are not homeless anymore and we have new folks in the mix. So it seems to me to be a waste of time and energy and money. But if anybody gets housed as a result of it, it'll be worth it.