Social Studies recap: Won’t you be my neighbor?

Along with our partners at Creative Loafing, the Center for Civic Innovation held this year’s second Social Studies discussion last Wednesday. The topic was homelessness and gentrification in Atlanta, featured in Creative Loafing’s recent story “The Fight for Edgewood Avenue” about how new businesses react to continued poverty in their community.

Homelessness is an issue prevalent across our entire nation, and Atlanta is no exception. Although on the whole, homelessness has reportedly decreased by 6% since 2015, there are still over 4,000 residents who experience homelessness in our city. Of those people, almost 86% of the adults are African-American. As the gentrification of our city intensifies, we are seeing the effects it has on the homeless population. The purpose of this discussion was to allow for members of the community to share their takes and perspectives on the unique issues presented by homelessness in this day and age, and how they should be addressed in the future.

Presentation

Carlton Hargro, Creative Loafing’s Editor in Chief, introduced the topic and each of the panelists.

You can access the slides here.

The panel consisted of Atlanta business owners and social workers who experienced or have been passionately interact with those who experience homelessness.

Panelists discuss what they think makes homelessness unique in Atlanta and what roles businesses and community centers have to make homelessness “rare and brief.” Panelists include (from left to right): Benjamin Graham (Bigmouthben Stores), George Chidi (Atlanta Downtown Improvement District), Rebecca Cranford (Gateway Center), and Johnny Martinez (Joystick Game Bar & Georgia Beer Garden).

Panelists discuss what they think makes homelessness unique in Atlanta and what roles businesses and community centers have to make homelessness “rare and brief.” Panelists include (from left to right): Benjamin Graham (Bigmouthben Stores), George Chidi (Atlanta Downtown Improvement District), Rebecca Cranford (Gateway Center), and Johnny Martinez (Joystick Game Bar & Georgia Beer Garden).

The panelists and the members of the audience discussed a variety of topics surrounding homelessness, such as addiction, marijuana and Quality of Life arrests, race, social support systems, the way in which the church is involved in the issue, and “housing first” policies and their effectiveness. Due to the polarizing nature of many of these issues, there was no lack of discussion and open debate, allowing for the entire room to share their ideas on the topics. For example, while many believed that the Church holding food drives for the homeless can be seen as nothing but beneficial, George Chidi argued that this act, in fact, plays into a much larger systemic problem that does not address the core issues of homelessness.

Although on average, 48% of people experiencing homelessness nationwide are white and 39% are black, we see a completely different set of statistics here in Atlanta. As panelist George Chidi put it, “Atlanta’s problems are unique in some ways, and one of them is tied very strongly to race and income inequality.” The reasons that we see this different set of statistics is not due to one factor, which is why we held this forum to educate and discuss the possible elements that lead to the homeless issues present here in Atlanta. In summary, our discussion provided a meaningful forum for all those present, and the video is available below for those who wish to listen and learn more about homelessness in Atlanta and the variety of factors that affect it.

Community activist Marshall Rancifer challenges the effectiveness of government programs addressing homelessness, sharing his own involvement in addressing the issue for the past 20 years.

Community activist Marshall Rancifer challenges the effectiveness of government programs addressing homelessness, sharing his own involvement in addressing the issue for the past 20 years.