Forever We Love Atlanta, But When Will We Truly Begin To Tackle Its Rising Issue Of Homelessness?
Homelessness in Atlanta is not a game.
And issa wrap. Atlanta has officially survived the grandest of all football games, Super Bowl LIII, and is now back to its regular small city programming. Thousands came, they saw and left the peach city pretty much as they found it. Perhaps at the behest of Atlanta native and rapper T.I., who ran down the official “ATL Super Bowl rules” of his hometown, as people prepared for the weeklong festivities leading to the Feb. 4 kickoff. He legit listed 11 rules and whatnots for folks to consider while visiting:
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“Anybody can sell you parking,” No. 1 warned. “This is a Black city; white ppl don’t start yo shit,” No. 4 advised. However, No. 8 on "Trouble Man" T.I.’s list was quite concerning: It read, “We respect our homeless please call them unc or auntie respectively.” While Tip is known for making benevolent moves, can we say the same is true of the City of Atlanta? I mean — it is certainly hard to tell.
While an estimated 500,000 were welcomed to the "Whistle While You Twerk" city to enjoy not only the sporting event itself, but a gaggle of dining, entertainment and recreational events, hunger and homelessness whispered in the backdrop. Among other things, the historic civil rights city is known for overbearing panhandlers and pockets of homeless enclaves that exist in and around the perimeter.
Erica Clahar, also known as Umi Says, sees this in her day-to-day interactions with Atlanta’s homeless — before and after Sunday Bowl Sunday. She began feeding homeless individuals when she noticed two things: The amount of food being wasted by businesses, restaurants and supermarkets and those without permanent housing weren’t just homeless, but often hungry, too.
“I've been feeding [and] serving people since October 2015,” Clahar told Blavity. Clahar is a food rescuer and founder of the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization Umi Feeds. Not only does she serve them healthy, nutritious meals, love and engagement, Umi Says identifies with them and shares a kindred spirit.
“I align with them because I understand, as a Black woman in America, how it is to be neglected and discarded. I feel and treat them like relatives I haven't met yet,” Umi said.
In that regard, T.I.’s viral post is true and also telling.
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According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), over 3,000 people were homeless in Atlanta in 2018, and that count does not include the surrounding metropolitan counties that raise that total by the hundreds. In 2017, a combined total of $57 million from the United Way of Greater Atlanta, the City of Atlanta and HUD, which was allocated for homelessness, according to Creative Loafing. Though utilized by organizations such as Salvation Army, City of Refuge and Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, these funds barely eradicate homelessness, primarily covering emergency and temporary housing, shelter maintenance and staff, like case managers, social workers, janitors.
The millions that go toward homelessness is menial compared to other major cities as Houston, which spends $103 million on the chronically homeless community, according to HomelessHouston.org. The same $57 million piece-mealed to Atlanta homelessness is considered meager when compared to the millions invested in this year’s Super Bowl.
Beyond beefing up security, managing gridlock and having a damn good clean-up committee, preparing for and hosting an event like the Super Bowl comes with a number of other expenditures; Arthur Blank's new stadium being one of them. Reportedly, the stadium is costing Atlanta taxpayers $700 million. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, another $28 million will go toward amenities for the NFL in the form of high-end lodging, police detail, free use of the Mercedes Benz stadium for game day and marketing materials. Cities spend exorbitant amounts of money with the hopes of bringing in large revenue, but arguably the projected return on investment hardly is anything but a profitable. This is a major slight to the city’s homeless residents, who can barely afford to eat and it is one ATLiens have seen before.
Almost 23 years ago, when Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics, the capital city pretty much turned its back on homelessness and poverty, choosing to annihilate the issue opposed to finding resolve. In fact, the global event, which lasted 15 days, was the beginning — if not the catalyst — for the newly gentrified Atlanta we know today. Yet, homelessness still thrives.
Demolitions erased low-income housing developments, displacing its residents and purging its homeless from Downtown Atlanta, in an effort to cleanse the area of any downtrodden elements all while pouring resources into the $1.7 billion event. Much like ROI projections for the Super Bowl, the 1996 Olympics did not yield anywhere near the amount spent; Atlanta profits were just $10 million. However, according Time, unlike the Super Bowl, the Olympics was primarily funded by private donors; Coca Cola being one of its sponsors with a $300 million contribution.
Things Remain the Same
Amidst the football festivities, conversations around how the city would handle its homeless was a major concern. A recent purge of homeless individuals in the form of arrest has gotten under way. Women On The Rise, a prison reform activist group, reported an uptick in quality of life arrest that may be linked to weekend Super Bowl weekend. The advocate group created a court-watching initiative to count the numbers.
All in all, the Super Bowl LIII, much like the Olympics, was a super-sized, paid ad campaign. Perhaps its official hashtag should've read #CapitalismForKicks, since that’s what was at play. Social concern for the homeless is a secondary matter to the City of Atlanta, its corporations and its wealthy. These particular set of Atlantans are overzealous clout chasers who are eager to claim big city cred. They appear to be running an expensive race to keep up and outdo cities like Los Angeles, Miami, New York, the Bay, Chicago and Houston — but neglecting your homeless ain’t it.