Athens-Clarke Homeless Specialist Says Creativity, Community Partnerships Address Need

Lillian Sronkoski is the homeless specialist for the Athens-Clarke County Housing and Community Development Department and works to fund organizations that provide services to homeless individuals. 

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless population in Athens, and has the American Rescue Plan Act helped to provide support during this time?

Shelters had to pivot really quickly to how they were going to safely still keep people overnight when there was an infectious disease. So, that was putting in a lot of new measures that would keep people safe. But, it also meant, kind of, re-evaluating how their programs worked. 

The ARPA funding was a huge influx of money that came into the community, and we allocated about $5 million of that to specifically homelessness, and that can be used for several different projects. The thing about it is it’s temporary, so we have to use it now and we have to use it quick in order to get something done with it.

Q: Are there any specific policy changes or improvements you would like to see to better address homelessness in Athens?

I think that zoning is something that we have to look at, and looking at higher density, more mixed-use and lower barrier zoning.

There’s some things that we can’t do as a locality that are restricted at the state level. So, we have to be creative about the kind of policy things that we put in place. But, you know, incentives for affordability, incentives for developers to build, you know, affordable and accessible housing that’s not completely on the outskirts of Athens.

Q: Can you discuss the FY25 Community Partnership Program and how you collaborate with local organizations to address the needs of the homeless population in Athens?

The Community Partnership funds our general funds, right, so it’s just local money that our, that the county commission gets to allocate to different organizations. This year, we’re making it a competitive process. So local organizations were all notified.

And hopefully, we’ll get some really cool projects. In the past, we’ve funded things like street outreach, from Advantage Behavioral Health. We’ve funded the Athens Area Homeless Shelter for some things.

Q: What role do you play in advocating for policies that address homelessness, and how can the community get involved in supporting these initiatives?

A cog in the bureaucratic machine, if you will. We are the implementers of policy, while they (commission) are the drivers and creators. When it comes time for public comment on things, you know, keeping your eyes and ears on what the agendas look like for mayor and commission meetings and making your voices heard.

Comments trimmed for length and clarity.

Devin Thomas is a public relations major covering city-county government.



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