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Dear Decaturish – Sometimes I feel like there are two Decaturs

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Dear Decaturish – Sometimes I feel like there are two Decaturs

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION: Natasha Tyson, RN-BSN, from Mercy Care checks Kelvin Scott’s temperature before he can enter a van for transport to a local hotel. Scott, 45, said in April of 2020 that he has been homeless since July of 2019. Photo by Dean Hesse
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Editor’s note: Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold provided a response to this letter. It appears at the bottom of this article. 

Dear Decaturish,

My name is Natalie Snedden, and I’m a long-time Decatur resident and volunteer with the unhoused neighbors in our community. Specifically with A Home For Everyone In DeKalb, Threshold ministries, and at the Free Fridge. Therefore, the issues of the unhoused concern me greatly as I have developed strong relationships with many of them. You cannot walk past the library without noticing that there are many unhoused individuals who reside here. As Decatur residents, we should be concerned for their well-being.

Last year, the city of Decatur started contracting with Frontline Ministries, to transport 10 men and 10 women on freezing nights to their shelter on Gresham road. This year, that continued but now, DeKalb County has also contracted with Frontline to shelter up to 100 individuals on nights when the temperatures reach 35 or below. Some nights they have been close to capacity because of the cold temperatures.

This is a huge relief for those who would be sleeping on the streets on those nights and I applaud those changes. In years past, A Home For Everyone In DeKalb, worked with several area churches to provide cold-weather shelter.

This year, we provided snack bags for those waiting for transport to Frontline Ministries. On some nights there were as many as 70 people showing up at the Rec center hoping to get transported to the Frontline shelter.

On Dec. 18, the city of Decatur announced that they were limiting to 20 (10 men and 10 women), the number of people that can be transported from the city of Decatur recreation center to Frontline’s shelter.

This limiting of those that can be transported from the Rec Center meeting place has created the additional burden of getting individuals to a pick-up location several miles away to wait for the Frontline van, or to ride MARTA to the shelter. This adds additional time in the elements, and adds expense for the train.

Per their agreement with DeKalb County, Frontline will continue to transport individuals in need of shelter from DeKalb County Fire Stations and Senior Centers. They also keep those places open as warming stations. In addition, people can go directly to Frontline’s shelter.

A Home For Everyone In DeKalb has been providing a limited number of MARTA cards for people trying to get to the shelter, as there are more than 20 people in the city of Decatur who are in need of shelter on those nights and it’s very difficult to get to the shelter without a MARTA card.  Greg White and his staff at the Rec center have been doing an amazing job assisting the unhoused community, providing a warm space while they wait for transportation and some limited storage for their belongings.

Sometimes I feel like there are two Decaturs. There are businesses on the square and their patrons who raise safety concerns with the city and then there are the churches and volunteers who work tirelessly to assist those in need. Some individuals suffer from mental health issues, but my experience is that very few pose any danger. Decatur is a small city but many people in need come here since we are on the MARTA line and there are several churches including Decatur First Presbyterian, Decatur First Baptist and Holy Trinity  that provide limited resources. The city and County’s partnership with Frontline Ministries is a huge step forward but it’s important that we as a community continue to step in to fill the gaps in every way that is needed and not turn our backs on those in need.

— Natalie Snedden

Here is the response provided by Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold: 

Cities have a responsibility to serve all-and that includes the unhoused population in addition to homeowners, renters, business owners and operators, employees, visitors, etc.

In an effort to protect the unhoused population from cold temperatures, the city of Decatur first partnered with Frontline Response International in the winter of 2022-2023 for access to a warming center.  This agreement, which provides beds for 20 individuals, was continued for the current winter season in the amount of $174,000 paid by the city.

Since last winter, Frontline expanded their bed space and contracted with DeKalb County for those additional beds.  Since the city is limited to 20 beds and the 2 vans that pick up the 20 individuals, we are working with Frontline, the County and non-profit partners to get people to the County’s pickup locations and warming centers.  The system is less than perfect but we remain committed to helping people get out of the cold.

As a small city, Decatur cannot meet the needs of all unhoused individuals in the County.  We depend on and appreciate DeKalb County’s commitment to providing access to multiple warming centers, including the Frontline location.

Ultimately, if we want people to have opportunities to move from our sidewalks to safe, permanent shelters we need to replace the current short-term aid with more comprehensive policies and services, ideally at a regional level.  In the meantime, we will continue what we can to keep everyone in our community safe.

— Andrea Arnold, Decatur City Manager

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