‘It’s a public health crisis’: Mayor speaks on homelessness at Buckhead Coalition luncheon 

Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at the annual Buckhead Coalition luncheon. Photos by @Kimevansphotos

Even in Atlanta’s lavish Buckhead community, homelessness is a major issue, and Mayor Andre Dickens is working to solve the problem. 

“We know every night hundreds of Atlantans sleep in our parks or under our bridges,” he said. “It’s not just a humanitarian crisis. It’s a public health crisis. The existing system of shelters and support systems is really overwhelmed and underfunded. Every month 200 people enter our system needing shelter. Resources are stretched thin. People are waiting for weeks on end for a hotel or apartment. This is unacceptable. We need to make changes.” 

Dickens spoke on that topic and others at the Buckhead Coalition’s annual luncheon Thursday, January 25th at the St. Regis in Buckhead. 

Homelessness remains a problem both in Atlanta and the rest of the state. According to Georgia’s 2022 Point in Time Count report, the state’s homeless population jumped by 43% between 2019 and 2022. Metro Atlanta ranks 46th in the nation with a homeless population of only 53 per 100,000 residents, based on a Home Bay study released in July. 

However, according to the Atlanta Mission’s website, about 2,000 homeless individuals sleep on the city’s streets each night, and 6,848 homeless people were served in 2022 by the Mission, a nonprofit that provides shelter and services for the unhoused. 

Earlier this week, Dickens participated in the Atlanta portion of the weeklong statewide Point in Time Count, which is part of a biannual national survey of the unhoused that is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Atlanta’s count was conducted in partnership with Partners for Home, a nonprofit aiming to end homelessness in the city. On Wednesday he announced a set of initiatives to help combat homelessness in the city. 

“Last week I asked the city council to approve my plan to allocate $7.7 million to accelerate our rapid housing initiative and house at least 250 [more] people, and they approved it unanimously,” Dickens said. “… These funds would be used to extend the hours of our warming shelters and to expand shelters operations to identify for purchase or lease additional facilities and provide support services and security at select sites.” 

The mayor also said this week the city will celebrate the opening of The Melody, a vacant downtown parking lot converted to a village of 40 donated converted shipping containers and modular units. Dickens said they took less than four months to build. 

“So, these are examples of how together we will make changes that make every community stronger,” he said. 

Of Buckhead’s homeless population, the mayor said the city is addressing two areas where the unhoused are encamped: The Hill, a wooded area near where Sidney Marcus Boulevard, Buford Highway, Lenox Road, Ga. 400 and Interstate 85 intersect, and Cheshire Bridge Road. 

Regarding crime, Dickens said he was proud of the progress the city has made lately

“Citywide, homicides were down 21% in 2023 [compared to the previous year] and down 36% in Zone 2, in Buckhead,” he said. “Aggravated assaults were down 16% and 18% in Zone 2. Rapes were down 50% [citywide]. … We did have that one nagging problem around vehicles. Motor vehicle theft was up in our city. That’s something we need to work on, but overall, we’re very proud of the progress we’ve made in this city. But any single crime, just one crime, is one crime too many.” 

But Dickens did say motor vehicle thefts, which have jumped by 61%, and shoplifting, which has increased by 22%, must be addressed. 

“More is to be done there. We’re moving forward to be better,” he said. 

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, who spoke after Dickens, said the state’s law enforcement agencies support the Atlanta Police, adding they back the city’s controversial public safety training center that is under construction. 

Burns also said the state has devoted $1.3 million to build a new Georgia State Patrol post on the governor’s mansion property in Buckhead. 

“This will allow the Georgia State Patrol to have a bigger presence,” he said. “[The importance of] increased safety across the board goes without saying. Buckhead now leads Atlanta in overall crime reduction.” 

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