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In Cold Temps, Convincing Atlanta’s Homeless To Seek Warmth May Be Challenging

There are about 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in metro Atlanta.
There are about 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in metro Atlanta.
Credit David Goldman / AP

As we head into the winter season, temperatures are continuing to get pretty low.

On Wednesday night into Thursday morning, for example, temperatures even dipped into the twenties.

So, what happens to the hundreds of people who live on the streets?

While some head to shelters, convincing those who are homeless to come in from the cold can be a challenge.

There are about 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in metro Atlanta. Most go to shelters, but the latest homeless count estimates 740 live on the streets each night.

When it gets cold, about 12 homeless shelters add additional space for people who want a warm place to stay without any strings attached.

“If they all came indoors immediately, we would have to create beds at that point, ” said Jack Hardin, who co-chairs United Way’s Regional Commission on Homelessness. “But, for the warming shelters, there shouldn’t be a shortage of beds. We open up sufficient amount of facilities to take in everybody who wants to come in.”

If the 12 homeless shelters have the potential to be over capacity, the city then activates a warming center at the Old Adamsville Recreation Center—located on the Westside of Atlanta.

While the Rec Center could be considered far away by some, advocates say transportation is provided and it has a lot of services for the homeless.

Still, Hardin said it’s important to note that it’s all voluntary, meaning people living on the streets can’t be forced to come in from the cold.

“The more severe the weather comes, the more active our outreach is to try to convince people that it’s in their best interest to come in, ” he added. “But, sometimes people are fearful, distrustful, uncertain of the unknown, and are reluctant to commit to come in.”

“There are some that if they don’t know the place, or haven’t been to the place, they may not for whatever reason trust to go there,” Tony Johns agreed.

Johns runs Crossroads Community Ministries, which provides outreach to the homeless.

“A lot of people who are chronically homeless also deal with varying levels of mental health issues and have a difficult time going inside, think that they can make it—And, as the temperature plummets—find themselves kind of caught outside in a difficult situation,” he continued.

There may have already been one cold-related death, ahead of the peak winter season.

Atlanta Police found a body of a man last week near the Five Points MARTA station downtown.

Authorities believe he was homeless and might have died from the freezing temperatures.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.