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George on Georgia – On homelessness, any easy answer is wrong

George on Georgia Metro ATL Trending Tucker

George on Georgia – On homelessness, any easy answer is wrong

George Chidi. Photo by Dean Hesse

A young man with no home walked from the Shell station up the street with my stepson back to mine last week. Two Pine Lake cops followed both of them home. If I didn’t live here and didn’t know those officers personally, I probably would have been worried about a Black Lives Matter moment on my doorstep. It fit the pattern.

It turns out that my stepson had offered to get the fellow a mask and perhaps some help from me, because I’m supposed to be good at that sort of thing. And at times I’ve thought I was good at it. Alas, I know better now. To be good at getting someone help, there has to be actual help to get.

If you’re over 25 and under 65, Black, male, healthy … but have a criminal record … you’re more or less done. Employment takes forever to find and housing a little longer than forever. Someone has to be ready to step in personally. With half of Atlanta holding on by their fingernails, most people without shelter can’t find someone ready to put their own shelter on the line.

The fellow was staying at the recovery center downtown. He found his way back to the area around Stone Mountain because that’s what he knew. He needed a job and a place to stay. I really didn’t know how to get him either one in the middle of a pandemic. And neither did the cops.

We see encampments now where we did not before, counting tents as we hit the I-85 ramp, or spotting the second shopping cart stuffed full of clothes on the corner of North Decatur and DeKalb Industrial Way, or noticing different people walking in between cars before the light turns green, or how often people in the parking lot at a Kroger – or in the Kroger – are asking us for money or food.

And some look at that and demand that cops roll in with polished jackboots and arrest people for ruining their day without regard for the next part – where people should go. Jail, one supposes, for the crime of being too poor and too marginalized to find proper housing.

Police interaction with the unhoused can create more problems than it solves. Some people require hospitalization for their psychiatric disorders, and that can’t generally begin without a police officer. People managing serious psychiatric disorders often shun police interaction for fear of a psych detainment – the 10-13 hold. If a social worker is there, they can associate that social worker with the police and shun them both, driving them deeper into homelessness.

The rest of today’s column can be found at the Tucker Observer. To read it, click here

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