ATLANTA (CBS46) – City leaders are struggling with what to do about a growing number of homeless people seeking shelter at Atlanta’s airport during the coronavirus epidemic.
Several homeless shelters have closed because they were unable to comply with social distancing guidelines. That has left the homeless community with fewer options. City leaders say they’re seeing twice the number of homeless people than usual sleeping in public areas of the airport.
“There is a collective effort that is happening at the airport,” said Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown.
Brown, along with City Council President Felicia Moore and council members Andre Dickens and Matt Westmoreland, met late Wednesday night at the airport with representatives of the nonprofit group HOPE Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Department, and MARTA police to get an understanding of the problem and to come up with solutions.
Brown said police soon will begin cracking down on a city ordinance that prohibits sleeping at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport overnight. Simultaneously, Atlanta agencies and nonprofit groups will provide services and shelter for those who can no longer sleep there, Brown said.
After the meeting, Brown spoke with some of the people who came to the airport seeking shelter. He learned many of them were not chronically homeless. They’d lost their jobs because of the coronavirus shutdown and can no longer afford housing.
Brown said the city is almost ready to open an “isolation hotel” for homeless people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. City leaders are now considering procuring a second hotel for those who test negative, Brown said. On-site COVID-19 testing would determine at which hotel each person would stay.
Late Wednesday night, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced she signed an executive order allowing the city to match private donations to provide more shelter options for the homeless.
The city also is trying to procure masks that workers can hand out to people seeking shelter.
Brown says their efforts during this crisis might end up being beneficial for the homeless population *long*-term as well.
“I believe that’s what city council and the mayor are collectively working toward,” he said.
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