How Bad is the Problem?
Homelessness is a serious problem for the Athens community that is garnering more and more public attention. The scale of the problem of homelessness in Athens is difficult to measure. Every year, Athens performs a Point-In-Time Count (PIT) of people experiencing homelessness by sending teams around to count and survey people in the street, shelters, and known encampments. In 2022, the PIT Count surveyed 283 people experiencing homelessness, the most since 2017. This survey is an undercount, and in 2022 we served 463 different people for a total of 12,413 shelter nights covered. We have been filled to our 35-person capacity almost every night, and we, unfortunately, have more people seeking shelter than we can service each night.
While we cannot know the exact number of people experiencing homelessness, evidence from around the community indicates the magnitude of the housing crisis. The constant overflow of people from shelters, the pervasiveness of people living on the streets, and data on poverty and housing inequality all suggest a severe homelessness crisis in Athens.
Athens-Clarke County remains deeply segregated by race and class. Outside of the "University Bubble," our community faces extreme poverty. While the presence of the University of Georgia brings many opportunities to the area, relatively wealthy university students over-saturate the housing market, incentivizing developers to build luxury highrises instead of affordable homes. During UGA and Athens' expansion, many growing Black communities like Linnentown were destroyed to make student housing. The combined impact of "urban renewal" projects with other forms of racism in housing has caused generational economic harm to the Black community in Athens.
All working-class Athenians face steep challenges with the lack of economic opportunity and high cost of living. The average annual cost of living in Athens is over twice the Federal Poverty Rate wage for individuals and families. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the rapid increase in rent prices, has caused many people to lose their homes.
People in Athens Living Below 100% of the Federal Poverty Rate
People in Athens Living Below 150% of the Federal Poverty Rate
Minimum Hourly Wage for Non-Government Employees
Living Wage for One Adult with No Child
Poverty and Inequality
Athens Lacks Affordable Housing
Rental prices in Athens are increasingly unaffordable. HUD defines a household as "housing burdened" when a household spends more than 30% of their income on housing. By this measure, a majority of every demographic in Athens-Clarke County is housing burdened. For low-income renters, an average of 62% of their income is spent on rent. This enormous strain leaves little for food, utilities, healthcare, childcare, and all other expenses.
When renters are priced out of their homes, they have few options. Public housing applicants face a two-year long waitlist, and the supply of affordable private housing is limited. Zoning issues and material costs complicate the ability of nonprofits and private developers to build more affordable housing. The Athens-Clarke unified government recently passed a zoning incentive to increase affordable housing development, but more needs to be done. Increasing affordable housing is one of the best ways to prevent homelessness and provide an avenue for people to get back into housing.
Athens-Clarke Fair Market Rate Rent is More Expensive Than 81% of Georgia
Low-Income Households Spend An Average of 62% of Their Income on Housing
Community in Conflict
The increase in homelessness associated with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the housing crisis has caused conflicts within the community. Lacking anywhere else to go, people create encampments on public and private land. Without utilities and waste disposal, these encampments are inhumane for any person to live in, and their presence can create a mess. As the camps have grown, businesses have put increasing pressure on the local government to evict people from the encampments. However, clearing an encampment only causes people to move to another spot or start living on the streets or in neighborhoods. Shuffling people experiencing homelessness around does nothing to solve the problem or alleviate their suffering. The influx of people living on the streets has also led to increased police reports. From the start of the pandemic, there has been a 64% increase in police reports involving people experiencing homelessness. These conflicts cause problems for local property owners and worsen the condition of people experiencing homelessness. The solution to this conflict is deceptively simple: Get people off the streets and into housing. Actually building the supply of affordable housing and addressing the root causes of homelessness are much more complex.
Increase in Police Reports That Involve People Experiencing Homelessness