ATLANTA — While Atlanta's homeless population is down by more than 65% since 2011, almost 700 people still remain unsheltered and on the streets.
With Atlanta's Peachtree-Pine Shelter closing down, what may happen to that number == will the unsheltered population take a dramatic upturn?
While lawsuits and politics surrounded the closing of Peachtree-Pine, Atlanta's largest homeless shelter, the greater concern is what happens to the homeless people who were living there.
Peachtree-Pine was a converted auto-parts warehouse, sheltering hundreds of Atlanta's homeless -- some for decades.
Jakarah Abbott, age 18, was one of 7 children, who together with her mother, Jaton, lived at Peachtree-Pine after being on the streets for months.
She describes what it was like there:
“Grown women wanting to fight you for no reason because they are not in their right mind. You have to have a strong mind. You have to have a strong mind with weak minded people. For me to be 16-17 years old and dealing with those type of folks, I had to learn how to walk away and deal with people. I think that is going to help me a lot. It was a life learning lesson,” she said.
For Jakarah's Mom, Jaton Abbott, Peachtree-Pine was better than remaining on the streets.
“It is what it is. When you don't have anything, you can't be ungrateful,” she said.
And while the Abbott family struggled to stay together and stay strong, Cleveland Jones, fighting a drug problem for 17 years, lived on the streets of Atlanta for ten of those years, then in and out of Peachtree-Pine for another twenty.
Off drugs now for more than 15 years, Jones said he dealt with Peachtree Pine as best he could.
“It was rough. It was very rough,” he said.
“Everything was wide open. Where you sleep, there are a lot of people; watching TV there are a lot of people. No privacy. None whatsoever,” Jones added.
But with Peachtree Pine shutting down, the goal was to keep the 255 residents off the streets and into affordable permanent housing.
Atlanta Attorney Jack Hardin, Co-Chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission for the Homeless and Chairman of the Gateway Homeless Center joined with Project Community Connection, Partners for Home and the Atlanta Housing Authority, to relocate Peachtree-Pine's homeless population.
“We interviewed and assessed each of them and their capabilities and needs and then proposed appropriate housing and interventions for them,” Hardin said.
Hardin says almost 200 of Peachtree Pine's homeless residents have already been placed in apartments with others now in transitional housing awaiting permanent places to live.
For the Abbott family, now living in Stone Mountain, and for Cleveland Jones, now living in Forest Park, it is a new life.
Jones commutes from the Atlanta suburb to a full-time job at Georgia Tech.
“When you got your own place; your own door key; it's totally different. It's beautiful,” Jones said.
“I am just overjoyed right now. We all are. It is so peaceful. Like a big b8urden off your chest,” Jaton Abbott added.
And Hardin's hope is that the successes following the closing of Peachtree-Pine can be a model going forward to end homelessness in Metro Atlanta.
“We hope by 2020 to have a community where homelessness is rare and when it does occur its brief and when we offer solutions that are durable, homelessness for that individual does not recur,” he said.
Affordable housing, proper medical care, jobs and transportation have all been identified as keys to an effective end of Atlanta homelessness -- goals that are now the focus of concentrated efforts by all agencies involved.