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Invisible People (Fall 2009 Article)

Homelessness. How many of us have ever given it any
thought? I mean, for the average student at Emory, homelessness
is not a likely problem. In fact, the only time I have
ever seen homeless people is when I volunteer at Grady
Memorial Hospital. So I wondered… how big of a problem
can homelessness really be in such a trend setting and international
city like Atlanta?
In actuality, homelessness is a pervasive problem in Atlanta,
however it is one that businessmen and city officials prefer
to turn a blind eye to or discretely sweep under the rug.
Tens of thousands of people are slipping into homelessness
everyday; over 12,000 in Atlanta alone, and many of whom
are children. According to the Metro Atlanta Task Force for
the Homeless, Atlanta is the POOREST city in the United
States for children. More children live in poverty here than
in any other city. One would assume that due to the recent
economic recession, the fastest growing group of homeless
people would be adults. In reality, it is the population of children
under 9 years of age. Atlanta’s Children’s Center says
that of the homeless children they serve, 95 percent are African
American.
Many people falsely believe that homeless people are either
mentally challenged people who fell through the cracks
of the system, lazy and unwilling to work, or drug addicts.
One can then easily label the “system” as shoddy and in
dire need of restructuring, thus easily passing the buck to
a less tangible scapegoat. Homelessness is caused by a
myriad of issues ranging from family problems to loss of employment
to domestic violence, with lack of affordable housing
playing an integral part. In reality, 13-25% of the urban
homeless population is employed. However, they usually
have low paying, long hour jobs such as temporary labor
agencies. Oftentimes, these people become homeless at
no fault of their own, and the falling economy has only exacerbated
their situations. When I interviewed an elderly
homeless woman, Tess, near Georgia State University, she
replied with: “Why am I homeless? Well, it is hard finding a
job in this city when you have only a middle school education.
I also have 3 babies to look after. After my cheating
husband left me, I started to drink and take drugs a lot. So,
it’s been pretty hard.”
Although the situation does appear bleak, more and more
resources and opportunities are being created here in Atlanta
to combat the rising
rates of homelessness. For
instance, the Gateway 24/7
Homeless Services Center
and the Metro Atlanta Task
Force for the Homeless offer
a plethora of services such as
transportation, counseling and
shelter. The Atlanta Children’s
Shelter has provided care and
shelter for over 7,000 children since
its opening. What is most important
about these facilities is that they assist
the homeless families to become selfsufficient
which, in the long run, is far more
beneficial than simply offering a warm bed.
-Melia Haile

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