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60 days after launch, Athens-sanctioned homeless encampment shares progress

15 of the '1st Step' residents now have jobs while five people already transitioned to permanent housing.

ATHENS, Ga. — It's been just over 60 days since the launch of Athens-Clarke county's sanctioned encampment, and organizers tell 11Alive News there are already early signs of success.

The '1st Step' alternative housing community is a local experiment as communities around the country deal with a growing crisis around homelessness. The government-sanctioned encampment is intended to be a bridge to supportive services and a step toward permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness. 

"I wanted to give it a name and give it life," Charles Hardy of nonprofit Athens Alliance Coalition explained prior to the launch in March. "We asked the homeless people and they said, 'Why not call it 1st Step?'"

Two months later, Hardy said the coalition is seeing progress with 15 of the 55 residents placed in jobs and five individuals already transitioned to permanent housing.

But he acknowledged there are hurdles, including the availability of affordable housing options. 

"The only challenge I see is affordable housing is a real big issue," Hardy said, "Not just in Athens but around the state."

Nevertheless, the group intends to transition seven more people to apartments by the end of the month, and while Hardy said housing placement is not in the coalition's contract with the county, he hopes to ultimately have all residents moved to more permanent options. 

11Alive reached out to Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz, who gave the formal green light for the encampment, for his perspective on the project's efforts thus far. So far, 11Alive has not received a response.

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