Olivia Amato, community engagement coordinator for the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, details how they keep struggling families off the streets during the pandemic and how the community can help, as told to Lexi Elmore.
There is a large need for shelter and housing support for families in our community. Before the pandemic, there were nearly 1,000 children in Clarke County experiencing homelessness. In March we had no idea what we were in for. It’s hard for us to get a sense of the numbers now, but we know that (homelessness) is increasing based on job loss and eviction.
We work exclusively with a very large, and unfortunately growing, community in Athens of the ‘hidden homeless’ and that’s the families experiencing homelessness. Right now, we generally have 50 to 60 families seeking shelter on a regular basis. We created a partnership with a local hotel and the Athens-Clarke County government, our Almost Home program, to provide emergency shelter for each family to have their own separate space; so that if anyone came down with coronavirus they were able to isolate and self quarantine without being homeless again. Due to that step, we have not had an outbreak in our emergency shelter. After 90 days in emergency shelter, we provide rental assistance through our Going Home program. We provide 100% rental assistance for a year to help families save and increase income and find stability.
Families utilize a lot of supplies and resources, so on our website we have an Amazon wishlist that we keep regularly updated for public donations. As well as Going Home Kits to provide supplies to families as they transition to their new homes, those are the best places for the community to help right now. We don’t want our families to simply survive, we want to help them thrive.
Lexi Elmore is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in communication studies in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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