Post Katrina Leadership Emerging in New Orleans

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, three New Orleans businessmen and civic leaders, Gerry Barousse, Mike Rodrigue and Gary Solomon, teamed up to play an inspirational role in the rebirth of their beloved city. Their effort to rebuild New Orleans through the creation of the Bayou District Foundation led to demonstrable results in the standard of living and people’s lives. They are part of a new, emerging brand of leadership that we should applaud and support nationally.

Two months after the storm, many people doubted whether certain parts of their city would ever recover. Gerry, Mike and Gary believed otherwise. They decided to focus their attention in the former St. Bernard public housing development, which was largely destroyed by the floods. They created the Bayou District Foundation, a nonprofit that served, to use a football metaphor, as a “community quarterback” for one of the greatest rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. Working with Columbia Residential as its development partner and the Housing Authority of New Orleans, they contacted displaced residents in New Orleans and across the country, engaging those who wanted to shape the new development with their input.

The three men were inspired to take on this enormous challenge after visiting the East Lake neighborhood in Atlanta, where businessman and philanthropist Tom Cousins championed the revitalization of one of the most dangerous and under-invested parts of the city. What the three men saw at East Lake provided a vision for what was possible: a revitalization that could have impact far beyond neighborhood boundaries.

Gerry Barousse, Mike Rodrigue and Gary Solomon understood the potential for a better future for New Orleans that could be accomplished through civic and business leadership. Over the past nine years, the Bayou District Foundation, with Columbia Residential, has led the development of 685 new, high-quality mixed-income apartments at Columbia Parc. Now it’s a fully leased development that is a safe and welcoming environment full of families and individuals spanning a wide range of ages.

Before the storm in 2005, the St. Bernard public housing development was only 72% occupied, according to the Housing Authority of New Orleans, due to the deteriorating condition of the buildings. In addition, it was an unsafe environment for families and children. From 2001 to 2005, there were 684 felonies and 42 murders within the 52-acre site.

Today, crime is virtually nonexistent. All residents of Columbia Parc are either employed, in school, in a vocational training program, or retired, and incomes of residents represent a healthy mix, from low income to those earning six-figure salaries. It is a community where people want to live that offers paths out of poverty for the lowest income residents.

The Bayou District Foundation also partnered with Educare to create an early childhood education center on the campus serving 167 children ages 0-5; created a health clinic with St. Thomas Community Health Center which serves more than 300 patients per month; and will break ground on a new K-8 charter school in 2016.

The leaders of the Bayou District Foundation are taking risks and making long term commitments, tackling issues that have bedeviled American society for generations. They are investing their reputations, connections, political capital and even their philanthropy in neighborhoods that have long suffered from the effects of concentrated poverty. Neighborhoods like this exist in just about every city across the country. The question is, why would leaders like this want to invest in them, and to what end?

The answer is that these leaders care about people and results. They believe that if given the opportunity to grow up and live in a healthy community, every child can succeed in school and achieve their full potential. It sounds idealistic, and it is, but there is now a track record of work in several fields that demonstrates this is no pipe dream.

At Purpose Built Communities, we are looking for more leaders who are not afraid to embark on a difficult path working with the community to transform neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, change lives, and ultimately, create a better country. We should all recognize and support this brand of leadership that can make a real difference in urban areas across the country.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shirley-franklin/ten-years-after-katrina-n_b_7977198.html

 

Should We Care about Affordable Care Act Subsidies? YES

ACAThe U.S. Supreme Court could release its decision in the King v. Burwell case any day, deciding whether some 412,000 Georgians will lose tax credits that go toward their health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). What is to be decided is whether the government can provide subsidies in the 34 states that opted out of offering their own insurance exchanges, which includes Georgia.

It is a fact that over 400,000 Georgians, many hardworking, honest people who contribute to the economy of the state but whose employment or income limit their health insurance options could face serious consequences.

Somehow the political debate minimizes their individual stories and ignores their wellbeing. The political discourse seems to be the familiar wrong headed, selfish partisanship. This situation raises questions. Who votes for these politicians? Why do people who have benefits not care about those who don’t? Why don’t those who need the benefits vote their interests or in record numbers? Access to affordable healthcare isn’t about race, ethnicity or gender. It shouldn’t be a politically volatile issue. It should be a unifying issue. Everyone needs access. Too few Georgians vote and too few vote for candidates that share their interests.

This issue requires voters to elect candidates who can see beyond partisanship and who understand that the “pursuit of happiness” must include accessible, affordable, cutting edge healthcare- prevention, research and treatment for everyone.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Congress understood the necessity to support the medical needs of the elderly when in 1965 he signed the Medicare bill into law. Many between the elderly and the young and those we count on to work to support themselves and their families are caught in the middle of this senseless debate. They and adults with special medical and mental health needs will suffer serious harm if the Court rules against the ACA.

Culturally we expect Americans to work, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to make it on their own and to carry their own weight. It takes a village to support a child and the health, education and wellness of the adults who care for them makes all the difference in their success. It would be a waste if America forgets the basic needs of every man, woman and child.

 

 

http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2015/06/16/two-gop-congressional-districts-among-the-top-five-that-would-be-impacted-by-an-adverse-obamacare-ruling/

The Dispossessed Deserve Better

Kalief Browder

Kalief Browder-Ebony photo credit

“The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime,but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.” From Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Mass incarceration is a system designed to imprison people based on racism and classism and being poor is a common denominator.

After Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, media attention highlighted a municipal court system that had a history and tradition of excessively ticketing those in the predominately black community. Some might argue that Michael Brown’s death and the municipal profiteering had little in common, that would be a naïve and reckless assumption.

The attention also drew the ire of state politicians in both parties. State Sen. Bob Dixon was a member of a bipartisan Missouri group of lawmakers who tried to address some of the systemic issues that came to light. Among the issues was the rate at which St. Louis County was ticketing poor minority motorists. It typically takes a long time for statewide policy decisions to be made but in this case, the legislature passed a bill limiting the percentage of traffic revenue cities could keep. House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said at the time, “We ought to have been prioritizing this a long time ago. It’s not right to have a system in our state where we’ve got municipalities that are basically funding the basic operations of government through traffic fines.”

The U. S. Department of Justice’s report that focused on Ferguson also revealed that national statistics were trending on a similar practice as a revenue generator. If a community is preyed on in the streets and in the courts, it is no surprise that the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson was an incident waiting to happen.

Last week, Atlanta’s Creative Loafing featured a story Fines, Fees and Inequality by Tiffany Roberts that reflects a familiar refrain in other cities and states. A former Fulton County public defender and co-founder of Lawyers United for a New Atlanta wrote the story. The exceptionally data driven piece did not fail to highlight the disparity between race and class as a premise for a questionable public policy. Whether you agree with her conclusion, there is no debate about the trend of the indigent and poor who find themselves with limited legal options if faced with criminal allegations.

Recent changes by the California Judicial Council now allow drivers to appear in court first to challenge a fine before paying it. It was not unusual for a traffic ticket to cost a motorist $500 in a state that reported in 2013 16.6% of its residents lacked enough resources to meet their basic needs.

While traffic fees are just one way to disenfranchise those who can least afford it. The case of New York’s 22 year-old Kalief Browder whose charges were dismissed is another more horrifying example of what happens when defendants can’t pay. In his case the damage was fatal. Kalief committed suicide after spending over three years in Rikers Island. Browder’s family could not afford the $3,000 bail imposed based on an allegation that he stole a backpack. It has been reported and confirmed with video evidence that he was beaten by guards and inmates and he spent two years in solitary confinement. Because he was innocent, Kalief refused plea deals.

And while St. Louis area jurisdictions are paying closer attention to the inequality of traffic fines, a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch story suggests that fines are being written for other offenses but target the same group.

Of course, we are not simplistically suggesting that criminals should not have their day in court to face allegations of wrongdoing. But the burden of a municipality’s budget whether Ferguson or any other city should not rest on the shoulders of those unable to avoid the persistent pursuit of an unjust policy.

 

Affordable Housing Matters

affordhousingEvery workday morning, thousands of hard working metro Atlantans commute into the center of the city to work. Often, it is to minimum wage jobs. These hard working individuals clean our high-rise office buildings, cook our “to go” meals, take our vital signs when we are sick and often help build the very offices and residences in which we live and work. Many of these individuals struggle from paycheck to pay check to make ends meet. The American dream of home ownership is not a dream for them … it is a fantasy and is simply not obtainable on a limited income. To have a vibrant, diverse city, the least we can do is make affordable housing a major priority in the city of Atlanta.

Community development is one of the biggest roles city governments play in developing vibrant downtowns. Providing affordable housing is and has been the cornerstone of community development.  Yet, according to the Urban Institute, we must go beyond just providing affordable housing to the working poor. We must use the tools of tax breaks, tax allocation districts and other financial incentives to encourage inner city commercial and residential real development. This helps to offset the high cost of inner-city redevelopment. When we do this, in tandem with encouraging business development, we create new job opportunities in the core city, as well as affordable housing opportunities.

Conversely, when developers purchase valuable city assets, especially for Intown residential redevelopment, it is imperative, as a stipulation to the sale and any related financial incentives; they agree to designate a percentage of new construction units as “affordable housing.” Every mayor since Sam Massell has championed the cause of affordable housing. Especially when the developer is acquiring and receiving both a city asset and tax incentives. This was the case for Atlantic Station, Ponce City Market project, the Centennial Park area redevelopment and should be the same for any city owned site. The city can afford to promote affordable housing options for those whom it is an economic necessity.  Affordable rental housing and affordable homes for purchase are essential elements for successful redevelopment of a city with 23% or higher poverty level residents and many working families who live pay check to pay check, Some years ago businessman Ron Terwillger and former Atlanta Housing Authority leader Renee Glover chaired the Affordable Housing Task Force. The report remains in the city’s files. This extensive report pushed the Council and me to offer $35 million in Affordable Housing Opportunity Bonds. Invest Atlanta as the Atlanta Development Authority had the expertise to manage the allocation of funding to qualified projects and the Council authorized funding to cover the bond financing. At the time we explored adopting inclusionary zoning legislation based on successful models from other cities as a mechanism to mandate mixed income housing development only to find limitations in state law. Perhaps it is time to revisit how the state could support inclusionary zoning legislation.

If we are to have a strong city, if we are to use all our assets to promote equitable and diverse community development that serves families and people at every socio economic level then as residents and taxpayers we must support the city’s efforts to do so even when it costs us money as taxpayers. The steady state of income and opportunity inequity for nearly 25% of Atlanta residents must be tackled unapologetically, consistently and holistically over the decades it might take to move the needle.

 

Read about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans for affordable housing that he highlighted today in his State of the City Address.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/nyc-mayors-speech-focuses-affordable-housing-28692712

 

Boehner will have his hands full with his newest “Crackpot Caucus”

Has the Speaker gone from herding cats to stopping stampeding elephants in the new Congress?

By Gary Cox

NYTimesThere is an old adage that says, “Be careful what you ask for; you may get it.” This may be the case with a solid control in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, especially for House Speaker John Boehner. While the likes of Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) will be exiting Congress, some of the members entering Congress may make her extremist views look rather mild mannered.

Here are some incoming members of Congress who will surely make the national news in the months ahead. They will be joining “The Crackpot Caucus,” a name coined by New York Times columnist Timothy Egan. The list includes three of Georgia’s own! The names to watch for in the news for outlandish policy positions with accompanying commentary are Rick Allen (R-GA), David Brat (Libertarian-VA), Ken Buck (R-CO), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Glenn Gothram (R-WI), Jody Hice (R-GA), French Hill (Libertarian-AR), Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), Alex Mooney (R-WV), Mark Walker (R-NC), and Ryan Zinke (R-MT).

While we can’t list all the crazy comments made by this “Gang of Twelve” in the last election cycle, here are just a few of the most notable quips and positions.  Retired former Navy Seal Ryan Zinke asserted that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the “anti-Christ.” Consultant Barbara Comstock lists as one of her major clients the Koch brothers. Ken Buck (one of our favorites) called homosexuality a “lifestyle choice” and wants to privatize the Veterans Administration hospital system and the Social Security Administrations (his mantra is “the private sector does it better.) Choral Pastor Mark Walker believes that the government should force women to give birth to the child of the rapist. Professor David Brat wants to slash Social Security payments to retired Americans by two-thirds and says, “..rich nations have nothing to fear from climate change.” Evidently he hasn’t vacationed in south Florida where tidal flooding of streets in Miami Beach is becoming common place.

Now to Georgia’s own – State Representative Barry Loudermilk in 2013 wanted to repeal Georgia’s state-run Medicaid program. He said we need to let non-profit hospitals provide indigent care. (Who pays the bill? Yes, you!) Businessman Rick Allen wants to privatize Social Security, gut the Environmental Protection Agency and decrease federal oversight of education. Then, there is radio talk show host Jody Hice, who was voted by Democraticunderground.com as the “craziest new member of Congress.” Congressman-elect Hice has stated that Muslim Americans have no constitutional First Amendment protections because Islam is “not a real religion.”  Hice also said that women should not be involved in politics without the consent of their husbands. In a recent post-election radio broadcast, Hice said that Congress should pass a law that allows people to discriminate against gay people if homosexuality offends their religious beliefs. Michelle Bachmann has nothing on Rev. Jody Hice.

It will be interesting to see if Speaker Boehner is better at stopping stampeding elephants than herding cats in the new Congress. Boehner is going to have a very hard time appeasing his right flank in the new Congress.

To verify the ascribed comments please check these sources:

Democraticunderground.com

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/223409-10-ultra-conservative-freshmen-who-could-trouble-gop-leadership

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/2014/10/20/3edea770-4b2b-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/04/ken-buck-midterm-election-results_n_5826572.html

http://www.wfmynews2.com/story/news/politics/2014/07/14/nc-runoff-second-primary-election/12657573

http://www.timesdispatch.com/mechlocal/news/th-district-u-s-house-of-representatives-candidates/article_8ee51aca-5f7a-11e4-a98b-001a4bcf6878.html

http://gareport.com/story/2013/01/07/political-notes-loudermilk-wants-to-eliminate-medicaid

http://www.examiner.com/article/rick-allen-and-john-barrow-debate-for-georgia-12th-district

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/07/23/jody-hice-is-likely-headed-to-congress-he-also-thinks-the-first-amendment-should-not-cover-islam

 

 

ELECTION DAY: Today Georgia Democrats can be decision makers

gavoterToday is Election Day, so let’s recap the political landscape. There will be tons of post election recaps however Blogging While Blue would like to get in front of the election chatter. Democrats, the Party, Independents and everyday folks have made a huge dent in the perception that Georgians are somehow satisfied with things under the Gold Dome, in Congress or in their personal lives.

National media has latched onto the implications of race in Georgia politics but I think one key storyline has been nearly ignored. A significant number of Georgia voters are worried about their jobs, how much they earn to support their families, their children’s current and future education goals, healthcare options and their immigration status.

For the first time in a long time Georgians are considering the prospect that their votes might actually count. The overwhelming turnout during the 18 days of early voting give hope in a sense of renewed political engagement across the state.

What exactly has been going on in Georgia this election cycle?

Georgia Democrats have offered superior candidates for office in Michele Nunn, Jason, Carter, Valerie Wilson, Greg Hecht, Connie Stokes and others. Each one brings relevant experience and a network of people who know them and their work, they appeal across party lines, communicate effectively and address contemporary issues by using facts rather than fiction.

Michele Nunn and Jason Carter have superior statewide and national name recognition that reflects their families’ political traditions and reputation, integrity and a clear understanding of contemporary issues.

Their campaigns have been exceptional. Michele Nunn and Jason Carter are exceptional leaders. 

The Democratic Party of Georgia has unified under the proficient leadership of Dubose Porter these last few years. Porter, a long time legislator from Dublin, Georgia has rejuvenated the Democratic Party with his business acumen and savvy political skills. He’s brought most Democratic leaders together and worked hard to be inclusive. Even when there was public debate about whether the party had any chance of winning statewide offices, Porter kept his cool and did the hard work of building the party base county by county.

Georgia Victory 2014/ the Coordinated Campaign Get Out The Vote (GOTV) plan was enhanced by independent voter registration, voter education and grassroots outreach across the state.  The Georgia Victory 2014 is a coordinated field campaign enhanced by an extensive network of independent robust targeted initiatives including the New Georgia Project, Souls to the Polls, Georgia Equality, GALEO the Latino Vote organization, the People’s Agenda, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, college NAACP chapters and numerous other organizations from Sparta to Athens to Vidalia to Augusta, Savannah and Atlanta. Each has had success and together these initiatives have ignited excitement among voters across the state.

The top ticket campaigns have combined the experience of national and local political consultants with thousands of committed volunteers joining in. The combined value of the local, national and grassroots political efforts is greater than the sum of the parts. Very few recent top Georgia races have had the foresight and courage to manage campaigns this way.

Whether the midterm elections will be an upset or not will be for the voters to decide on Tuesday. Some are already predicting runoffs in the top ticket races. Some are reporting calculations of how much they have accomplished or contributed. Others have claimed victory already.

Wednesday morning the election results will be known and for Georgians who are tired of the gridlock in Congress and are concerned about jobs, healthcare and their children who are in a state that is stuck at the bottom for employment, educational investment, transportation and environment, we remain convinced our coordinated efforts will prevail because many Georgians are worried about gridlock in the nation’s capital in Congress and partisanship that closed downed government in and stifles innovative policy making and decision making on immigration, on tax reform, on tax reform and minimum wage, on national security and environmental policy and are concerned about their jobs, their health and their children in a state stuck at the bottom for employment and investment in smart transportation, sustainable environment and top quality public education.

Doing the same thing over and over doesn’t change the results!

It is time to change the state’s leadership.

NunnCarterAs Election Day, November 4 nears the pressure is on Georgians to distinguish fact from fiction. My intuition tells me even with Politifact Georgia and media exposure too many Georgians might miss a few of the important facts surrounding this year’s elections.

Georgia’s economic recovery lags the nation in almost every measure. Even the most recent federal reports confirm what thousands of Georgia families know…. our unemployment rate is awful. Georgia has the HIGHEST unemployment rate in the US. That means 49 governors are doing a better job than our governor in creating jobs, retaining jobs and employing its residents. On Governor Deal’s watch, his economic recovery plan of corporate tax cuts, refusing to expand Medicaid and balancing the state budget at the expense of education hasn’t worked! It is time for a change. Jason Carter has the guts to advocate for refocusing Georgia on investing in education. This is the surest method to improve Georgia’s growth in business opportunities and economic expansion. It will insure Georgia’s long-term economic health.  The days of starving education and expecting economic growth are over. In the 21st century a first-rate innovative education plan from cradle through college including technical school are essential to meet the educational needs of Georgia’s children. We all benefit when our neighbors are working too. Those who are unemployed need more than the Governor’s quarrels with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lip service that “statistics don’t matter” is a disservice to unemployed Georgians. They need job training and access to education.

In the U.S. Senate race to replace Saxby Chambliss, too many attack TV ads make it seem as if President Obama is running to be Georgia’s next senator. He isn’t. In fact, Michele Nunn’s career has been far from partisan. She is on a first name basis with four former presidents, George H. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as well as President Obama. She is a bridge-builder who has worked to break down barriers that keep us from working together. In 2009, she worked with Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to pass the Serve America Act, which gives small grants to volunteers for service projects in their communities.  From her Hands on Atlanta experience to CEO of President’s Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, Michelle has worked to seek full civic engagement of everyday folks that empowers neighborhoods to help themselves. Nunn’s experience and record reflects her ability to work with Republicans and Democrats, which is why her donors also include both Republicans and Democrats. Her top priority is to create jobs and economic opportunity in Georgia – and not outsourcing Georgia jobs to China.

It is time for change in Georgia – it is time to vote for Jason Carter for Governor and Michelle Nunn for the U.S. Senate!

 

Georgia’s Unemployment Rate is Too High–Period.

georg45This campaign season has highlighted a lot of reasons to get to the polls but none is more significant than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that lists Georgia as once again with the highest unemployment rate in the country. Georgia’s unemployment rate of 7.9 percent is a full two points higher than the national average, and Georgia lost more than 15,000 private sector jobs in September. This is not a partisan or political issue; it is a grave economic reality for Georgians.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” said Sen. Jason Carter. “Gov. Deal has driven Georgia to the very bottom. By his own words, he’s rejecting facts instead of accepting responsibility for this crisis. If he can’t even see the problem, why should we trust him to fix it?”

Since Governor Deal was elected unemployment in Georgia has been high so whatever he has been doing it is not working. It is well past the time for us to get our heads out of the sand.

Gov. Deal has been reported as having said, “I believe that somebody who has a job is better than somebody who doesn’t have a job.” I would argue that is especially false for the job of Governor of Georgia.

 

Will Georgia Voters Rebuff Republicans this November?

Twit-FacebookThe national media continues to probe Georgia politicians about the political campaign landscape in the statewide races, especially the Michele Nunn and Jason Carter races. There are discussions about the other statewide races but the national attention is focused on the Senate and gubernatorial races. The primary question to me is whether Georgia voters as diverse as they are—will rebuff the politics of Georgia’s Republican leadership? Or will the demographics shifts in Georgia make a big enough difference to ignite high voter turnout to sweep Nunn, Carter and others into statewide elected positions? In case you are wondering what some of the issues are take a look at Jason Carter’s recent release.

Rankings That Matter: Deal’s Record for the Middle Class

As Gov. Deal continues to trumpet a ranking from CNBC, let’s remember the rankings that show how the middle class is really doing under the governor:

  • A study released this week said that Georgia’s schools rank 32nd overall. The study shows that Georgia has the 4th highest dropout rate and the least safe schools in the country. (WalletHub, accessed 8/6/14)
  • Georgia has the 5th highest unemployment rate in the country (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 8/6/14).
  • Georgia is one of only two states in which real per capita GDP has declined in the last 15 years (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/20/14). Adjusted for inflation, the average Georgia family in effect makes $6,000 less than the average family did 10 years ago (Politifact, 1/23/14).
  • The same CNBC ranking that Gov. Deal is trumpeting found Georgia to be among the worst states for “quality of life” and “education,” ranking 32nd in both categories. (CNBC, 6/24/14)

Some other statewide issues like healthcare, transportation and water can be added to the Carter list. Many Georgians live with only emergency healthcare services because Governor Deal refuses to acknowledge the benefits of expanded Medicaid. Healthcare is a critical quality of life issue for Georgians. Without viable transportation solutions, the negative impact of snarled traffic in metro Atlanta will continue.

Our water challenges continue while Georgia enjoys a AAA bond rating in part because state funding of infrastructure isn’t a high enough priority for Governor Deal.

Deal does not advocate for the financing Georgia’s desperate need to expand, renovate and build reliable transportation networks of safe bridges, efficient roads, connected transit, trails and paths and statewide water supply, storm water and sewer systems. In fact, from our experience last winter there is evidence emergency service system and planning needs investment as well.

The data clearly illustrates the problems in Georgia; the only question now is will Georgia voters rebuff the Republican leadership this November.

Voter turnout in a midterm election is usually less than presidential elections. Progressive candidates are counting on a larger than usual turnout to sweep them into office. Georgia’s ineffective leadership and voters desire to change that leadership may be the perfect equation to make this year’s midterm election the exception to the rule.

What Difference Do Our Differences Make?

There but for the grace of God go I.

Creative Loafing photo credit

Creative Loafing photo credit

A recent Atlanta Journal Constitution article by Bill Torpy highlighted the funding crisis for homeless shelters in Fulton County. He points out that in spite of some incredible success stories of programs that have served thousands of homeless men, military veterans, women and children, and the work of the Gateway Center, there is still more work to do. Torpy adds homelessness to the running tally of Great 21st Century American Challenges, which include public education, job development, hunger, affordable housing, and affordable healthcare.

It appears from the article that Fulton County is having second thoughts about their responsibility for funding the human service needs of some of its residents. The same might be said about the State of Georgia as well. Whatever we were doing right for homelessness, we need to get back to doing. There is more hard work to do. Some of that work requires more money–not less. And it means a serious commitment to finding resources not just reordering priorities and shuffling line items in budgets.

A team of 25 civic minded, fully engaged volunteers had the nerve in 2003 to tackle homelessness in a different way. They forged a partnership with dozens of nonprofit organizations across the region to create the seven-county Atlanta Regional Commission on Homelessness. The group was under the awesome and committed leadership of retired attorney Horace Sibley in partnership with then United Way of Metro Atlanta CEO, Mark O’Connell. They along with Jack Hardin, Nancy Boxill, Debi Starnes, Bonnie Ware, Rev. Jim Milner, Bill Bolling, Elizabeth Omilami, and others set the region on a course to improve the lives of those who found themselves homeless. Many people were locked out of services, disenfranchised of their rightful benefits and completely isolated from any chance to get back on their feet. A few trusting foundations, some local and state government funding and individual donors resulted in an infusion of $60 million in seven years of new funding for substantive, reasonable programs to address the urgent needs of metro Atlanta’s most needy.

Talking about this in hindsight might give you the impression this was easy work, one grant or one speech and the work was done. No, this was hard work that took months of research, collaboration and planning. We had to put aside our differences, listen to the people we served, be attentive to the challenges of those organizations on the frontline and disregard our differences. This problem was bigger than any differences we might have had. We had to be flexible and respectable that in some cases those we wanted to serve didn’t want our intervention. A few organizations chose not to join the effort. And that was okay, they had every right to refuse assistance, because their specific mission was different and they didn’t want to get away from their purpose.

We can dwell on what didn’t happen but the more compelling stories are of those 7,000 people served by the Gateway Center last year, thousands of women and children served by City of Refuge and the dozens of families served by Odyssey Villas. None of these organizations existed in 2003. And there are the stories of dozens of veterans who have resettled into apartments with the help of federal grants and local donations.

I know and love an Atlanta that works to get things right. An Atlanta that cares as much about those in need as we do our own success, that can unite to raise $60 million for homelessness, and in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Maynard Jackson–doesn’t give up. As mayor, I often referenced the legacies of Mayors Allen and Young as examples of men who were willing to work through the City’s historic and cultural differences in order to make a difference. In tribute to their efforts and so many others, I know that Atlanta is smart enough to find answers to the tough questions surrounding homelessness.