A stretch of freezing nights is expected to hit Atlanta this weekend.
In years past, downtown Atlanta’s Peachtree-Pine shelter, for all its flaws, could take almost a thousand people at times like this. With it gone, the city said it plans to activate up to 125 emergency cold weather beds as well as several warming centers.
“When you lose 300- or 400-bed spaces, what are you going to replace it with?” said Raphael Holloway who heads the Gateway Center, which is coordinating the city’s efforts. “That takes some planning. It takes some financial support and the city has been working with others in the community to raise funds to do that.”
In the meantime, Holloway said the Gateway Center can take in about 60 extra people on cold nights, but he said that space can fill up by mid-afternoon as the temperature drops. It’s shuttling some across town to find people warm places to sleep.
Still, advocates said the cold will hit the city’s homeless population especially hard this year.
Drew Benton, with Project Live Love, has done homeless outreach for a decade. He said judging by the first cold snap in early December, this winter is already different.
“We typically will only see about 30-50 people out on any given night, whereas that first night we saw 200 plus people,” Benton said.
His group distributes blankets and supplies on cold nights. Benton said lately, significant overcrowding under some overpasses has made that effort difficult to do safely.
Advocate Marshall Rancifer has been homeless himself.
“If I was giving the city a grade, I would give them a solid D or an F,” Rancifer said.
He’s critical of solutions that rely on transporting people out of areas they’re used to, and said strict shelter policies, including some that require people to turn in their phones in order to stay, are a factor in many people’s decisions to remain outside.
The Gateway Center said the City of Atlanta has more than 3400 unsheltered homeless people on any given night.