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'It’s sticky at the bottom' | Man living on the street explains why it’s so hard to end homelessness

The Way Home: The Problem is part one of an 11Alive Investigates series examining why tents line our freeways and families struggle to find stable housing.

Rebecca Lindstrom, Kristin Crowley ((11Alive))

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Published: 1:35 PM EDT October 28, 2022
Updated: 4:09 PM EST November 21, 2022

Atlanta has an easy way for residents to report concerns. Just dial 311. In the past year, about 2,330 people called that number for an issue related to homelessness. 

11Alive Investigates listened to many of those calls, a mix of compassion and frustration.

“This should not go on somewhere where it’s right out in public view. This is in my neighborhood,” said one caller.

“He’s now gone to defecating on the sidewalk,” another reported.

“I will call every day until something is done about it,” vowed a resident, upset that despite an earlier call, nothing had changed to close the encampment near his house.

In June, Mayor Andre Dickens said the number of people homeless in Atlanta had actually dropped 38%. But that’s not the perception, even among the homeless themselves. 

“Maybe if you count the ones that have passed away or have left or are in jail,” said Brandon, who asked us not to use his last name. He's spent about six years living in encampments around metro Atlanta.

Investigator Rebecca Lindstrom also spoke with staff at shelters across the metro who said the decrease in people needing housing assistance was short-lived and is now consistently at or above capacity.

11Alive went out into the community and even surveyed those in our newsroom about their thoughts on the causes of homelessness.

Addiction, job loss, lack of support, mental health problems, and personal choice all came up.

“You think that anyone can go to a shelter, why don’t they?” asked one person. 

Meanwhile, another added, "every time they clean out an encampment and someone loses their birth certificate, that bars you from so many federal and local resources.”

One man living on the streets, who asked not to be identified said, "It’s like sticky at the bottom and it kind of holds on to you.” He described that stickiness, which for him is anxiety and depression triggered by a car wreck that killed his wife and daughter. 

“If you just said, 'I don’t want to do this anymore', what would be your first step?” investigative reporter Kristin Crowley asked him. 

“Oh, I say that every morning,” the man quickly responded.

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