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Homelessness in Athens: Doing Something is Better Than Nothing


By Michael H. McLendon

On Tuesday night 3 October the majority of the commissioners are poised to enact progressive affordable housing and homeless polices that will have monumentally negative consequences for our community. Add to the mix, they will vote on a transition plan for the failed Barber Street homeless camp that will house some of the homeless in Athen’s motels/hotels (Bulldog Inn/In Town Suites, etc. among other things). As one commissioner has said about his vote...”doing something is better than doing nothing.” That is like saying it’s a giant fuzz ball we don’t know what it really is and there are a lot of unknowns, but

let’s vote for it anyway. That wrong-headed way of thinking has already created a number of problems in Athens!

We can all agree that we wish the housing market here was better aligned to enable those who work in Athens to also live here. We all want to see better outcomes for those who are homeless whether they are down on their luck needing a hand up or they are part of the chronic homeless. And we also want to see practical actions that are affordable, and sustainable that will achieve positive outcomes. At the same time, ACC cannot be all things to all people all the time. So, what should we do? For a start we should not enact bad policies.

Bad Policies

Unfortunately, the polices being pushed on Athens are based on the same ways of thinking that created the chaos and decline of other cities like LA, San Francisco, Portland (0R), Seattle, Chicago, New Your City, and others. You have seen the

pictures and read the stories. These policies did not reduce or prevent homelessness or mitigate housing challenges. Even California hasrecognized thatits housing first plan, that cost taxpayers over $17.5B from 2018-2022 all the

mwhile the state’s homeless population grew, failed. This investment was coupled with lax enforcement about theft, panhandling, drug use, public intoxication, etc.

Does this sound familiar?

Granted ACC is not California or New York City, but that same progressive recipe is what is driving the ACC agenda that will exacerbate the current failed ACC homeless programs and the problems we experience daily. Just ask the Athens police which has seen an increase in calls from 987 in 2018 to 4759 in 2022 involving the homeless. Ask the 240 business owners in Athens who were surveyed about the impact of the homeless population on their businesses. Theybdocument a disturbing picture of the impact on their businesses and customers, yet the mayor and commission are deaf to these issues. One of the facts-of-life that the mayor and others do not want to recognize is that we live in the smallest geographical county in Georgia (46 Sq Miles) where there is only so much you can shoehorn into and tolerate in our community before it breaks. Or is that the plan?

ACC held 7 public forums where the Housing & Community Development staff briefed their very high-level housing and homeless strategies to consistently negative reviews from citizens. It is important to note that ACC has not evaluated

its housing and homeless programs to determine how well they are performing and to see what value is being delivered. Further, for all the talk about affordable housing, ACC has no data on the inventory of total number of “affordable housing

units” and what is in the pipeline. Why is ACC pursuing new strategies to spend

even more $ when we don’t know what has and has not worked before?

Citizens with no skin in the game, meaning they have no financial stake in the $, provided independent analyses of these two ACC strategies to the mayor and commission documenting the myriad of fatal flaws and bad data problems in those strategies. This independent analysis has been ignored. All the while, the mayor and some commissioners have been scurrying around out of public view to shield the details of their proposals ignoring reality. They used an executive session closed to the public and side meetings among commissioners and homeless providers to devise something that is not yet fully formed or available for public scrutiny, much less debate.

Certain Commissioners now have come up with their own “Commissioner Defined Options” 22-Acceptance-of-Affordable-Housing-Investment-Strategy (accgov.com)and 23-Acceptance-of-Strategic-Plan-to-Reduce-and-Prevent-Homelessness (accgov.com). These options were posted on the ACC web site over the weekend with no formal notice and we still do not know the complete picture of what they are thinking must less planning. The idea seems to be to just throw money against the wall and let the same local housing and homeless advocates submit bids to do something!

This situation is just another example of how the mayor and his minions suppress information and stifle public debate. For example, on 22 September, members of the Five Points Community asked its three Commissioners to meet with citizens for a town hall before the 3 October commission meeting. These three

commissioners never officially responded to the request. Why? Could it be that they did not want to face the likely tough questions from their constituents?

Cutting through the mayor’s camouflage and obfuscation, a few details have

emerged after connecting the dots. The essence of what the mayor wants appears to be:

1. Establish Athens as a regional homeless hub with an infrastructure of staffand facilities even though ACC has never implemented any cost sharing agreements with surrounding jurisdictions for providing services to theirbhomeless. The Athens Homeless Coalition is already doing outreach insurrounding counties to further increase the population of homeless coming to Athens.

2. After current federal funding runs out in FY26, likely push for a new 1% local option sales tax to pay for his homeless/housing plan. This also likely

means additional new funding in the ACC General Fund budget in FY26 if not before, meaning higher taxes.

3. Implement a low barrier supersized homeless shelter enshrining Athens as a regional center for homeless services. Mixing those with mental

health/drug users with other homeless groups in a low barrier shelter is not prudent. Investing first in low barrier shelter including permanent supportive housing (PSH) rather than focusing first on treatment does not mitigate the problem.

4. Acquire/lease/use vouchers for a hotel to house the homeless as stated by ACC Housing & Community Development staff at a recent public forum. Motels/hotels that have been mentioned are the Bulldog Inn, In Town Suites on Old Macon Highway, In Between the Hedges, Best Western, and others.

5. Apply for a HUD grant ($10M) for housing that requires an ACC match and likely long term ACC financial support. The mayor’s focus on housing first rather than treatment first is irrational when

all available data suggests about 50% if not more who are homeless suffer from mental health and/or substance abuse. What is needed is to first prioritize investment to expand limited treatment housing for those with mental health/substance abuse challenges at Advantage Behavioral Health. Then the challenge becomes more manageable.

One of the aspects of the homeless problem that is not being discussed is illegal immigration into Athens. It is obvious the native ACC homeless problem may bebexacerbated by the ACC resolution enacted in August 2019. This resolution

supported “undocumented immigrants” which effectively makes ACC a sanctuary city. The Center of Immigration Studies (https://cis.org/Map-Sanctuary-Cities- Counties-and-States) identifies Athens as one of the three sanctuary jurisdictions

in Georgia which makes the homeless hub more of a magnet. Remember the regional transit route the mayor wants as part of the mall redevelopment project to connect somehow with Gwinnett and also MARTA? This is about enabling people to come here for services not because there is any documented demand from ACC citizens.

So Where Do We Go from Here?

Continuing to throw more and more scarce $ against the wall as ACC is planning'to do is like hoping for a different and better outcome. This not good stewardship or compassionate. The commission will vote, say they did something, feel good, declare victory, and move on...and we will be back in the same hole except thisntime it is deeper and more expensive.

As one commissioner has already said: “Doing something is better than doing nothing.” How wrong- headed is that way of thinking. There have been a number of ACC initiatives over the years to address “affordable housing” and the homeless challenge. Yet, here we are poised to spend even more $ creating a bow wave of consequences and fiscal commitments that fall on taxpayers when ACC has never evaluated the performance of past programs and their value. Clearly, there is no appetite on the part of elected officials to learn from their prior mistakes and those of others.

That wise commentator on life, Forrest Gump, blessed us with many notablebsayings. One of those is apropos now, “stupid is and stupid does.” This means that it is not the person who is stupid but the behavior. What is going on here regarding housing and the homeless is but another example of the inability of the mayor, his administration, and the commissioners to be discerning about

addressing issues.

In other words, they continually demonstrate an inability to make judgments informed by critical thinking applied to data. Decisions driven by emotions, feeling, virtue signaling, and just going along seem to be the norm. This reliance on making decisions by emotion and feelings is a critical weakness in ACC’sndecision making. This weakness coupled with the mayor’s suppression of

information, not just to the public (but also to the commissioners) and desire to stifle actual public dialogue in public, creates an environment where there is no accountability. This is not how good, open, and accountable government should

operate. In my view, this demonstrates a failure of ACC leadership and management that often leaves commissioners unable to keep up, much less the

public. This housing and homeless policy train needs to stop now. ACC’s difference to

experts has led us down the path to repeat the past. It is time for others to take the lead to craft ways ahead that are practical, affordable, and sustainable based on data driven options. They may be well intended, but the commission and ACC

government have proven they are not up to the task. It is essential to make some tradeoffs recognizing ACC and its citizens cannot provide all things to all people all the time while also giving weight to the future consequences of present-day

decisions. To those who say doing something is better than doing nothing,

I am sure there are a number of different opinions about these issues. But if you agree, contact your commissioners immediately and tell them not to approve Item 22 (the affordable housing strategy), Item 23 (the homeless strategy), and Item 24 (the Transition Plan for Sanctioned Homeless Encampment) on their 3bOctober agenda. Then go to the Commission meeting on Tuesday night at 6 P.M. and speak your mind. Tell them we need to start over.

A Postscript

In the next few months, the mayor and his fellow progressives on the Commission will use the annual 10- year update to the ACC land use plan as a cover in annattempt to make radical zoning and other changes to impose their progressive

social housing agenda. These polices will forever alter the traditional communities, neighborhoods, and culture of the “Classic City.” More about this in

the future. For now, understand that the ACC Growth Plan being marketed with tours and meetings is just a teaser to make you think your opinion has value.

Remember we live in the smallest geographical county in Georgia so we should be asking how much growth is too much?

That wise commentator on life, Forrest Gump, blessed us with many notablebsayings. One of those is apropos now, “stupid is and stupid does.” This means that it is not the person who is stupid but the behavior. What is going on here regarding housing and the homeless is but another example of the inability of the mayor, his administration, and the commissioners to be discerning about

addressing issues.

In other words, they continually demonstrate an inability to make judgments informed by critical thinking applied to data. Decisions driven by emotions, feeling, virtue signaling, and just going along seem to be the norm. This reliance on making decisions by emotion and feelings is a critical weakness in ACC’sndecision making. This weakness coupled with the mayor’s suppression of

information, not just to the public (but also to the commissioners) and desire to stifle actual public dialogue in public, creates an environment where there is no accountability. This is not how good, open, and accountable government should

operate. In my view, this demonstrates a failure of ACC leadership and management that often leaves commissioners unable to keep up, much less the

public. This housing and homeless policy train needs to stop now. ACC’s difference to

experts has led us down the path to repeat the past. It is time for others to take the lead to craft ways ahead that are practical, affordable, and sustainable based on data driven options. They may be well intended, but the commission and ACC

government have proven they are not up to the task. It is essential to make some tradeoffs recognizing ACC and its citizens cannot provide all things to all people all the time while also giving weight to the future consequences of present-day

decisions. To those who say doing something is better than doing nothing,

I am sure there are a number of different opinions about these issues. But if you agree, contact your commissioners immediately and tell them not to approve Item 22 (the affordable housing strategy), Item 23 (the homeless strategy), and Item 24 (the Transition Plan for Sanctioned Homeless Encampment) on their 3bOctober agenda. Then go to the Commission meeting on Tuesday night at 6 P.M. and speak your mind. Tell them we need to start over.

A Postscript

In the next few months, the mayor and his fellow progressives on the Commission will use the annual 10- year update to the ACC land use plan as a cover in annattempt to make radical zoning and other changes to impose their progressive

social housing agenda. These polices will forever alter the traditional communities, neighborhoods, and culture of the “Classic City.” More about this in

the future. For now, understand that the ACC Growth Plan being marketed with tours and meetings is just a teaser to make you think your opinion has value.

Remember we live in the smallest geographical county in Georgia so we should be

asking how much growth is too much?

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So doing nothing accomplishes what exactly? More houseless Athenians. That’s what. When a one bedroom averages $1300 that means you must earn $46,000/year to rent it. Have seen wages here?! its laughable.

All you did was complain and offered zero solutions. The ONLY solution to homelessness is housing. So start building or expect more homeless on the streets of Athens. (And taking up your game day rooms :)

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Where is the Million(s) of dollars that was entrusted to the "Overseer" of the Barber St. location?? Those tents and donated food didn't cost a Million or better dollars. ASK THE QUESTIONS AND FOLLOW THE MONEY!!!!

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Paul Bunce
Paul Bunce
Oct 03, 2023

We have found the commission as a whole to be corrupt and intent on pushing its own agenda regardless of cost, safety or community benefit in choosing Firefly Trail routes. Why should we expect them to be any different in pushing their sanctuary city agenda? We have some good commissioners and we have several who are elected by the left wing student population.

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The majority of students don’t register to vote here. You live in a progressive town, full of educated people. If you don’t like it, move.


After your comment making fun of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I am pretty sure we cancel your opinions on everything anyway.

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Build it and they will come.

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