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DeKalb coalition continues to ask the county to improve warming centers for unhoused residents

Avondale Estates Decatur Metro ATL Trending

DeKalb coalition continues to ask the county to improve warming centers for unhoused residents

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: Barry Martin waits outside for the warming center at DeKalb County Fire Station 3 in Avondale Estates to open on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — The House the Unhoused DeKalb Alliance delivered a petition with over 2,000 signatures to the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Oct. 25 asking the county to improve services for unhoused residents.

The House the Unhoused DeKalb Alliance is a grassroots group made up of unhoused residents, nonprofits, local government representatives, faith partners, concerned citizens, and advocates, according to a press release.

In delivering the petition, House the Unhoused DeKalb Alliance member Diana Evans Berman made the following statement:

“During cold weather, our unhoused DeKalb neighbors sleep outside in freezing temperatures. They risk hypothermia and death,” said Diana Evans Berman, a member of the alliance. “Last year, the county opened [three] warming centers in fire stations, but only in [southwest] DeKalb. No food, water, or services were made available. Only 10 people could stay at each center.

She added that the alliance appreciated the county has opened warming centers for two nights last week when the temperature dropped. The centers can accommodate 10 people per location, and several folks were turned away last week. There was no food, water, or services provided.

“As evictions spike and the affordable and accessible housing crisis intensifies, we must be even more prepared this year to meet the needs of our unhoused neighbors,” Berman said. “DeKalb County must develop a plan now to meet the critical needs of the unhoused throughout the county during cold weather.”

The House the Unhoused DeKalb Alliance has seven demands for county government:

1. Open enough warming centers to ensure all areas of concentration of our unhoused neighbors have access by proximity or by transportation.

2. Ensure transportation access for our unhoused neighbors to the warming centers by public transportation or shuttle service.

3. Provide adequate food, water, shelter, beds, and wraparound services with more consistent support, respect, and dignity for our unhoused neighbors.

4. Communicate warming center openings publicly at least 48 hours in advance on freezing nights.

5. Hold regular meetings between the county and all DeKalb County cities to better coordinate efforts and share resources.

6. Increase staffing and hours of the Coordinated Entry line, which is the hotline for anyone in the county experiencing homelessness can call to get services from nonprofit partners. The line is currently only staffed from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. To call the Coordinated Entry line, dial 404-687-3500.

7. Provide permanent supportive housing for everyone on the waiting list.

“It is clear that the county believes that cold weather is an emergency situation for those unhoused residents of DeKalb County. We applaud this; however, we also know that DeKalb County can and should do better. Please ensure that these reasonable demands are met,” Berman said.

Fire Station No. 3 in Avondale Estates serves as one of the three warming centers. Earlier this year, few men waited outside the fire station to get out of the cold. A firefighter let them into a meeting room with tables and chairs. There were no cots. The four men had access to a restroom and a TV.  The fire station did not provide them a meal.

There was snow in the forecast during the weekend of Jan. 6. Fire Station No. 3 is just a place to stay warm, and those hoping to find housing or a meal won’t find that in a fire station conference room.

On Jan. 6, Barry Martin, and three others, made their way to the Avondale Estates fire station seeking shelter from the cold. Bundled up in coats, the four men had their belongings with them and hoped to find housing, warmth and a meal.

“Housing, that’s what I’m hoping that they got,” Martin said. “I’m 70 years old. I need affordable housing.”

DeKalb County Emergency Management opens warming centers when temperatures drop below 35 degrees and are considered dangerous due to the wind chill, precipitation and a predicted duration of two hours or more, a spokesperson for the county previously said.

However, the county opens three warming centers at fire stations, mostly in central and southern DeKalb County, that are meant to service the entire county. The county typically uses the fire stations in Avondale Estates and Ellenwood, as well as the one on Flat Shoals Road in Atlanta.

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