How Atlanta Is Streamlining Funding And Targeting The Most Vulnerable To Reduce Homelessness

Download Audio
The city of Atlanta is using some innovative approaches to tackle homelessness, which has dropped by almost 30 percent since 2015. (Davis Turner/Getty Images)
The city of Atlanta is using some innovative approaches to tackle homelessness, which has dropped by almost 30 percent since 2015. (Davis Turner/Getty Images)

This story is part of a series looking at places around the U.S. that are successfully reducing homelessness. Check out all of our stories.

The state of Georgia has reduced homelessness by 51 percent since 2007, and Atlanta has brought it down significantly in that time as well. Since 2015, the number of people who are homeless has dropped almost 30 percent.

Advocates in Atlanta are employing some innovative methods to tackle homelessness, like aligning public and private funding streams. Cathryn Marchman, executive director of Partners for HOME (Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone), an organization that aims to end homelessness in Atlanta, says the marriage of those dollars is “critical” in the city’s fight to reduce homelessness.

One such partnership is with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a public funding stream in Georgia that typically funds child welfare and foster care, she tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson.

“In Georgia, we recognize that the No.1 risk factor for families entering the child welfare system is housing insecurity,” Marchman explains. “And so we went to the Department of Family and Children's Services, and we said, 'Rapid rehousing,' which is a permanent housing intervention, 'is something that TANF dollars can be used to pay for.’ ”

The department agreed and last year provided half a million dollars to invest in rapid rehousing for homeless families, which Partners for HOME matched with another $600,000 in private investment, Marchman says. As a result of that $1.2 million, the organization housed 100 families in less than eight months.

“Instead of using [public dollars] as a band aid, we’re using it as a prevention mechanism to not only get the solution we want in homelessness, which is ending their homelessness, but then for the child welfare system, hopefully preventing that family from altogether entering foster care,” Marchman says.

Interview Highlights

On the use public-private partnerships to help the most vulnerable

“For folks who are chronically homeless, which means a person who has a disabling condition has been homeless for a long time, so this individual is typically our most vulnerable in our community — they're costing our system the most – we are scaling permanent supportive housing. And what's unique for us in this is we were able to pass a $25-million bond through city council a year and a half ago, and we are matching that $25 million in the private sector for a $50 million investment, and a big portion of those funds will go to support the scaling of permanent supportive housing. And the housing authority in Atlanta stepped up to the plate and said, 'We want to be a part of this.' And they said, 'For your pipeline, we're going to provide the operating and rental assistance dollars for all 550 units that you develop.'

“So what we did was we combined all three funding streams — the private dollars for services, the public dollars for the capital — so the sticks and bricks to build the units — and now the housing authority funding stream for the project-based rental assistance — and we created one application. So there's now one place that developers have to come to apply for all three funding streams. And that's really unique and innovative because whereas a developer would previously have to go to three or four or five different resources to get those three different funding streams, they can come to one place now. So just improving those efficiencies in order to help drive to the impact, which for us is scaling permanent housing interventions by population.”

"The reality is the money we get from [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] for a continuum of care dollars and homelessness will never be enough to address the issues of homelessness."

Cathryn Marchman

On how the city is helping young adults, including those in the LGBT community, who are homeless

“Much of our focus is on right-sizing our system, and when we say that we mean we want to drive permanent housing solutions by population. And so for youth, we believe that youth are different, and we need a spectrum of interventions for youth. So for youth, we have invested in a youth-specific rapid rehousing model, which is essentially just a flexible subsidy that helps us get youth quickly into housing and then pairs services and rental assistance to them. But it's based on the needs of the youth. So it could be three months, it could be 12 months, it could be 24 months. And then specifically for youth who identify as LGBTQ, we have launched a host home program for youth. And by youth we mean young adults, essentially ages 18 to 24.

"And host homes [are] really a foster care model if you will, but with supportive services, and we have funded an agency that is going out and sourcing and training and raising up host homes. And these are homes that are either LGBTQ-identified themselves or empathic to youth who identify as LGBTQ, and they will be trained and raised up to accept a homeless young adult into their home. And again, the beauty of that is that this is a loving home that will help support that young adult, but they're also paired with services so that the youth can get back into education and employment, and ultimately be able to move out on their own into permanent housing.”

On the challenges in implementing a “housing first” model to tackle homelessness

“I think we are not unlike practically every other city in the country, which is really struggling to source landlords to come to the table and partner with our programs and our subsidies. In terms of things like ‘NIMBYism’ – ‘Not In My Backyard’ — and stigma and stereotypes, it's such an easy proposition to convince a community or a neighborhood or a developer or landlord to house a teacher or a firefighter or a police officer or even just a low-income individual. But when we throw into the mix that we want to then consider housing someone who's formerly homeless — even if it's a homeless family, let alone somebody who's chronically homeless with issues around addiction and mental health — then it becomes a much more challenging proposition. And also throw into the mix somebody with a long history of evictions potentially with a criminal background, with credit issues, again it just becomes a hill that increasingly becomes more of a mountain to have to surmount.

“And so given the market that is against us in terms of an occupancy rate in Atlanta that's close to 95 to 96 percent right now, there are a lot of forces that are working against us and that are very challenging. And it's not as if we're asking landlords to take people for free. We are coming with subsidies, and we are coming with vouchers, and in some cases, subsidies that will pay up to market rent, not just fair market. For us in Atlanta, a lot of what we're working on is reducing stereotypes and stigma and even just changing the way we frame the conversation and what we call our subsidies. For example, we have partnerships with the housing authority that allow us to utilize a Section 8 Choice Voucher. So we stop calling it Section 8 entirely and just call it ‘choice’ because there's so much stigma that comes along with the term Section 8, even though it's a guaranteed rental payment in your bank account on the first of every month. They can't get that guarantee on the market.”

On her advice for other cities working to reduce homelessness

“The question of housing affordability has been first and foremost. And so I don't know that we're smarter or doing anything super unique. I think as a country and as individual cities and communities, we really need to push the envelope in terms of our policies and our investments around housing affordability. And I think Atlanta has really stepped up to the plate also in the last year to bring both public and private entities together to say, 'How are we going to double down on our efforts around housing affordability?'

"But I mean, I think the other thing is that continued alignment — is going to both the public and the private sector and asking them to partner with your strategic initiatives so that you can do this work more impactfully and more efficiently because the reality is the money we get from [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] for a continuum of care dollars and homelessness will never be enough to address the issues of homelessness. And we need all of the sectors, both public and private, who are involved or either tangentially or even just partially, we need all of those sectors coming to the table to partner and align their resources and their tools to do this work.”

Julia Corcoran produced and edited this story for broadcast with help from Todd Mundt. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on February 22, 2019.

More From Our Series:

Headshot of Jeremy Hobson

Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



More from Here & Now

Listen Live