The number of people seeking shelter at the Atlanta airport has dropped dramatically — although that may not be because the need for housing has dropped.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been a place of refuge for people who are homeless for some time. Then, with the coronavirus, the nighttime numbers climbed.
A few weeks ago, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms acknowledged that as many as 300 people were staying in the airport overnight. News outlets warned of a coronavirus hot spot.
Since then, Hartsfield-Jackson has removed seating from the atrium and put up temporary walls around the food court.
In a statement, the airport said Hartsfield-Jackson closes to people without tickets or other business at the airport at 11 p.m., and security officers are not allowing people to enter.
The average number of people sleeping at the airport now is about 20 people every night.
However, it’s unclear where others have gone.
In a statement, MARTA said it is seeing an increase in the number of people who are homeless and on trains at night. The transit agency has redirected people to the Garnett Station downtown.
This week, outreach teams with the nonprofit HOPE Atlanta started meeting passengers there. The station is next to the Gateway Center, the central intake site for people who are homeless.
But with the coronavirus, space at homeless shelters has been scarce. Some providers have stopped accepting new people for fear of spreading the virus.
In response to the growing need for shelter, the city has opened a hotel for up to 250 people this week. Priority will go to those who are older than 65 or have health conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus.
The city is already using an additional downtown hotel to isolate people who are homeless and have tested positive for COVID-19. That has been in operation since earlier this month.
According to Atlanta’s 2019 estimate of its homeless population, about 700 of the total 3,200 people without homes in the city are unsheltered.