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Atlanta Logs Dramatic Turnaround in Homelessness

By Jaime Henry-White | 10/11/2013, 2:53 p.m.
After Larry Mainor left the armed forces, he spent years getting high on crack and sleeping in cars, under bridges, ...
Veteran Larry Mainor, 48, looks around the outside of a restaurant where he used to sleep at night during the 30 years he was homeless. Atlanta’s “Unsheltered No More” initiative is currently working to place homeless veterans and the chronically homeless, like Mainor, into permanent housing. The city is on track to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2015. Photo by Jamie Henry-White/AP.

"This is not the guy who could get a job who just didn’t want it - that’s not the population," Maguire said. "They are folks who really, truly will not be able to sustain themselves and will need to be taken care of by their fellow community members."

Mainor, the man who found a home in Atlanta, also has received help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program provides rental assistance, case management and clinical services for homeless veterans through the departments and community-based outreach.

The VA nationally is increasingly viewing homelessness as a permanent problem - not a temporary one.

"The change now is that we want people to get housing first, and then we surround them with services and that helps their process of recovery," said Protip Biswas, Vice President of Homelessness and Community Outreach for United Way of Greater Atlanta.

Recent analysis from Atlanta’s local housing authority found that veterans permanently housed through the HUD-VASH voucher program had an average retention rate of 95 percent. It is too early to calculate the retention rate for the city’s recent chronic homelessness challenge.

Many of the individuals housed through the city’s recent initiatives were identified through a volunteer-driven homeless registry created in January. The registry, based on a vulnerability index that screens for critical health and social conditions, serves to identify and prioritize the city’s most vulnerable citizens for housing.

As for Mainor, he has been able to overcome his alcohol and drug addictions, afford permanent housing, receive medical and psychological attention and obtain pension benefits. Building off his skills as a cook in the military, Mainor recently graduated from Atlanta Technical College’s culinary arts program, where he also met his fiancée. The two are now making plans to open a bakery and catering business.

"Instead of me trying to find some drugs and alcohol when I wake up in the morning-time, now when I wake up in the morning-time, I can think about the positive things in life," Mainor said. "It tells me that Larry is somebody now. It tells me that the last four years of trying to live a normal life is paying off."

(Source: Associated Press)