How Augusta task force plans to tackle homelessness

Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 7:50 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - On Thursday, Augusta Commission members heard from the city’s homelessness task force about their findings collected over the last year.

Since February 2021, the task force has been working on developing a plan to address homelessness. Here are the preliminary results of the ‘Point in Time’ count.

A total of 576 people counted as homeless. That’s over 100 more than the last count in 2020. Those living without any shelter at all came to 315. And 71 were experiencing chronic homelessness, which means they’ve been homeless for a year or more or have been homeless more than once.

The plan addresses all aspects of homelessness, from men living on the street to families living on the brink.

It started outside GAP Ministries in 2020. Willie Walker was living on the streets of Augusta when he died. The cold night was impossible to bare.

Two months later, the commission created a task force.

“I had no idea how intensive this task was going to be,” said Jordan Johnson, task force, co-chair.

It started with data. Street outreach teams found the average age of a homeless person in Augusta is 44. Nine percent are employed.

Shawn Rhodes, a street outreach team member with the Marshal’s Office, said: “We’re good at that fast quick fix, let’s take care of them right then you hungry? Are you cold? We’ll get you warm. Long-term is our struggle.”

The plan makes the street outreach team permanent. Meeting people where they are and connecting them with resources they didn’t know existed.

Lynda Barr, task force, committee chair, said: “I’ve learned that the people on the street aren’t coming in for services. So, we have to go out to them.”

They’ll move $2 million previously dedicated to a shelter and create 50-75 transitional housing units by 2025.

They’ll partner with local non-profits to open as day shelters. They want to eliminate the confusion on where to get help by creating a single point of access in the city for all resources. Including employment and records assistance.

Daniel Evans, task force member with Augusta Housing and Community Development, said: “We’re 370 square miles of the county, where homelessness exists in every corner.”

They want to provide bus passes for people to get there, and a coordinator will keep the plan together.

Johnson said: “This is a short-term, mid-term, long-term plan that expands from now until about 10 years.”

The plan also addresses mental health by creating a mental health court. They’ll have case managers in the courtroom to prevent evictions.

The Salvation Army is working to build a new overnight shelter. For affordable housing, the goal is to work with the Land Bank Authority to identify unused land the city owns to find space for supportive housing. The goal is for it to be approved in commission next week.

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