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Learning about the homeless

September 1, 2009

Protip Baswas, executive director for the Regional Commission on Homelessness with the United Way of Atlanta, led quite a discussion today about Atlanta and urban homelessness. In the fist C4G class last year, a student worked with him to build a database system to track the people they were taking from the street or shelters and putting into homes. One goal of non-profits is operational efficiency and making the most out of tight resources. For these homeless program workers, effective case management is a major driver of their success as measured by getting people who are homeless into a home and able to pay for it on their own for at least six months. The C4G-built system gave workers a much more streamlined way to keep track of their activities and measure the outcomes.

There is more to be done. The project for this class is about data analysis. What trends is the data revealing? Are veterans more or less likely to succeed with an intervention? How long does it take on average for a single woman with kids to get back on her feet and care for her family?

Some interesting statements, questions and facts heard in class:

Volunteering in a shelter is good, but you can’t end homelessness just by serving a sandwich.

It costs more money to leave a man on the street than it does to pay for his apartment and an assistance program that help him get on his feet. Why?

  • Jail costs – people call the police when they see homeless people loitering.
  • Emergency room costs – people who live on the street go to the hospital frequently. Two nights at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital costs as much as one month’s rent.

Homelessness stems predominantly from lack of a job or addiction. Everyone is only X paychecks awat from being homeless.

The face of homelessness is a single mother with kids. Not men, not African Americans.

Should you give money to a homeless person? Many of the people who ask for money have a place to stay at night, but no job. The money they receive often goes to feeding an addiction. Consider buying them food instead. Do not ignore them.

The best thing about American culture is its giving nature compared to the rest of the world.

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