I Tell of Two Cities

More homeless in Atlanta, but more help in Cincinnati

By Riccardo Taylor

Streetvibes Vendor

I believe most are aware of the national homeless problems in America. And of course it would be easy to believe that the larger the city, the more people there would be in that situation. Therefore, one would assume that the larger the city, the more resources there are for the homeless right? Well, I don’t know what the national statistics are, but I can tell you my personal experience in two cities that face homeless problems.

This is not meant to be an in-depth report on the conditions or a claim to know the exact numbers of individuals are homeless. However, it is meant to be an overview of the essential differences in the way the homeless problem is dealt with in the cities of Atlanta and Cincinnati.

My experiences with street life and homelessness in Atlanta and Cincinnati are not so much in the difference in its adherents as it is the community responses to the situations, particularly within the local government. In Cincinnati, I have seen few local demonstrations directed at the local governments, such as marches and protests over the treatment of the homeless as compared to Atlanta. In the year I spent in Atlanta from 2005-6, I witnessed three major events of protest by the homeless that were directed at the city government. It is my opinion that the homeless plight is one that Atlanta’s city government tries to ignore for the most part. I can say that one particular entity, Gateway Resource Center, is backed somewhat by City Hall with several other organizations. Yet I am sure Atlanta’s city government is not as committed money-wise to their homeless population as Cincinnati. And as far as having voice in a political sense, there is only silence in the city of Atlanta.

Homeless people in both cities depend greatly on individuals and organizations, i.e. churches, non-profit humanitarian groups, etc.; and in street terms, these types of organizations are blessing for Atlanta’s misfortunate. Cincinnati has more places that have full meal service than Atlanta. There are more shelters in Atlanta but many do not either feed or offer even a simple bowl of soup. This is in contrast to Cincinnati, where one can get two full-course meals daily. Otherwise, private food sources in Atlanta are churches and individuals who pass out bag lunches from their vehicles. On weekends, one must stand in the many downstairs parking lots where neighbors come to feed the people.

Of course there are a few more feeding places in Atlanta, but for the most part they are inaccessible to many of the people who need them or open only on particular days. I do have a lot of praise for the churches for their part in feeding the people. It’s just my observation that in Cincinnati you have a better chance of obtaining a regular balanced diet if you are homeless.

Again, Atlanta has more shelters than Cincinnati, and with a larger homeless population that people can be understood. However, I find that Atlanta’s shelters are less accommodating and less attractive. Most are highly unsanitary compared to Cincinnati; and although even that leaves a lot to be desired., Cincinnati has one-up on Atlanta in that area. Still, there are some in Atlanta in which minimal comfort can be obtained.

Generally, Atlanta’s shelters are on a first-come first-served basis, with closing time at 7 pm. One is out between 4 and 6 a.m., depending on the shelter, and in the streets until admitting time, which is around 4 p.m. There are no day centers in Atlanta. One has to indulge in the universal ritual of street people – to keep on moving.

Cincinnati has a public bath house where homeless people can take care of their hygienic needs and change clothes. The shelters in both cities offer bathing facilities, but clothing is a bit harder to come by in Atlanta. The closest thing to a public bathhouse is the Gateway, a 24-hour resource center.

Many more of the homeless in Atlanta sleep on the streets than in Cincinnati. Of course, there are more of them, but percentage-wise, there are more sleeping on the streets as well. I suppose, in part, it is the conditions, rules and policies of Atlanta’s shelters that make them less appealing than those in Cincinnati. Whatever the reason might be, Atlanta has more cardboard shantytowns than Cincinnati.

I believe that an individual should be responsible for his own welfare, yet many instances show that some people simply cannot, such as the mentally ill, drug and alcohol addicts, children and the elderly. When a community is faced with such a reality, then the government that should be the first supporter, the first voice, the first lead in working for a solution – and if not for the homeless, then never against.

Cincinnati is blessed to have a homeless coalition that is active and resourceful in the fight to bring equality amongst its citizenry. Atlantans in the same predicament have no outside voice, they have no coalition and find themselves often at the mercy of political whims or the graces of some church or other religious organization. For those of our community faced with homelessness, there are a few things we can be thankful for. I cannot give a whole lot of praise for city government in enactments to ease the life of the homeless, yet I know that we have fewer enactments against us than those in Atlanta. The churches in both cities deserve praise, but what I believe is the most distinguishing and optimal difference is our homeless coalition – a group of concerned citizens and organizations who care and get involved to make a difference.