Homelessness count in Athens reaches new high

Homelessness in Athens has reached a new high this year, according to the Athens-Clarke County Continuum of Care’s annual point-in-time count. 386 people experiencing homelessness were surveyed on January 24, which is 12.5 percent higher than last year.

The annual point-in-time count tallies people experiencing both sheltered and unsheltered homelessness as well as the total shelter capacity of the surrounding community. It counts those living in emergency shelters and transitional housing as well as those living in places not meant for human habitation, including cars, as long as homeless services providers can find them.

While the point-in-time count provides the best data on homelessness available, it is notoriously inaccurate. Homeless camps can be difficult to find and are temporary by nature. They can spring into existence one week and be gone the next, but of course only those existing on the day of the count are included. Furthermore, many people experiencing homelessness are able to sleep on a friend’s couch or in a spare room, making themselves almost invisible during the annual count.

These factors make the point-in-time count a significant underestimate of the number of people experiencing homelessness in Athens. Even so, we can compare this year’s count to previous years to glean important insights. For example, it’s clear that the point-in-time count has been growing year after year. The 2024 count is the highest of the past decade, second only to 2023.

These graphs of 2024 point-in-time data, as well as those below, come from the Athens-Clarke County Housing and Community Development Department.

The data show more sheltered homeless people, who are relatively easy to count, than unsheltered, who are more difficult to reach. 2023 was an unusual year in that the numbers for sheltered homelessness dipped below that of the unsheltered population. According to John Morris, the chair of Athens’ Continuum of Care, that’s because the Salvation Army shelter temporarily closed during 2023.

Homeless Athenians

During the count, surveyors ask a number of questions designed to provide more information about those experiencing homelessness in Athens. This year, as in previous years, the people surveyed were disproportionately Black, mostly male and range widely in age. A large majority of them have been homeless for over a year or more.

During public forums and local discussions about homelessness, it’s often assumed that most people experiencing homelessness come from outside Athens, but that’s not borne out by the data. A majority of the homeless individuals surveyed this year say they’ve lived in Athens for six years or more. Only ten percent say they’ve lived here for less than six months. 

When asked where they lived before becoming homeless, 82 respondents said Athens-Clarke County. The second most popular answer was a nearby county in northeast Georgia. Only 39 said they came from a county in northwest, middle or southern Georgia or from out of state.

This is consistent with previous surveys, adding yet another data point to confirm that Athens is dealing with a homelessness problem of our own making.

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