With the help of social workers and police escorts I volunteered on Friday morning to interview homeless people for the City of Atlanta’s Unsheltered No More project, aimed at building its first homeless registry. It was a saddening, but positive and unforgettable experience that helped me understand the realities of living on the street.
My shift started at midnight, and began with coffee and a one hour training session where we learned how to stay safe, how to fill out their surveys, and why we were asked to volunteer. There are 2,400 homeless people in Atlanta that live on the streets and in and out of shelters. Plans are in the works for some housing to be built for 800 people, but the city needs a way to identify who the most vulnerable individuals are. Hence, the registry was needed, and volunteers were called to survey the homeless population. I was one of them.
By 2:00 am, I found myself on a team of 6 volunteers, two social workers, and two policemen from a special unit that specifically deals with homelessness. I was on one of the teams that drove and walked through downtown Atlanta, meeting men and women living on the street that were sleepy but willing to share their experiences with us. Some of the questions we asked were difficult. Some of our questions didn’t get answered. We took our notes, handed out food and warm clothing, and carried on until 6:00 am.
In the end I came away with a better understanding of what it means to be homeless, and the data we collected will be used to help the city move individuals from the street and into stable housing. It was a unique event to be a part of, and like my other experiences, I was able to meet some other volunteers along the way.
Pictures from the event are in an article on a local media website, Creative Loafing Atlanta.