Continuums of Care

Homelessness has chronically plagued Georgia’s urban areas, but with the efforts of non-profit organizations and increased funding allocations, homelessness numbers in Atlanta have dropped 38% since 2020.[1] Unfortunately, surrounding rural areas cannot say the same. As of 2018, one-third of those experiencing homeless on a given night live in rural Georgia.[2]


The Department of Housing and Urban Development started a program in the 1990s that would coordinate funding and programs to specified regions in order to proportionally target areas of need.[3] Each region, called a Continuum of Care (CoC), is designed to provide funding for local governments, nonprofits and care-providers; encourage community commitment to fighting homelessness; and promote accessibility to those who are seeking resources.[4] Georgia has nine CoCs, eight of which are concentrated in urban areas. There is one CoC specific to rural Georgia, which stretches as far north as Dalton to as south as Valdosta.[5] A recent study has shown that “largely rural” CoCs have a larger share of people experiencing homelessness (44%) than in urban areas (39%). How can rural homelessness be appropriately handled when there is one massive district that receives just as much funding as other, smaller districts?


A prime example of this dire problem is Cedartown, Georgia, a city in Polk County that lies about an hour west from Atlanta and in the large, rural CoC.[6] John Winecoff, a member of Community Share Ministries, says that the recent increase in the homeless population is due to a lack of resources, including jobs and affordable housing.[7] Even small towns that have any sort of resources do not receive the funds to maintain them. Housing that is available is dilapidated and unsafe.[8]


The ideal solution is to enact housing first policy on a state level. This policy takes the approach of finding affordable housing for anyone who needs it, and then follows up with individualistic care approaches following placement (searching for employment, mental health care, etc.).[9] This kind of policy entails making housing affordable and increasing the number of housing specialists.


Affordable housing is hard to come by in Georgia. As of 2020, the state is short by over 207,000 affordable units for low income tenants.[10] Housing vouchers may be advertised as a solution, but even then there are 970 households in Georgia that hold a voucher but cannot find a landlord that will take it.[11] To fix this, municipalities should consider enacting local mandates that designate funding for affordable units.[12] Funding should either be used by local governments or given to local partners and non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity that work to specifically bring down rent costs.[13] Even amending zoning laws to just allow for more of these units to be built is a good start.[14] However, different municipalities may have varying views on what needs to be done. Policy should be enacted in the General Assembly to mandate a certain number of affordable units based on the number of residents in the municipality or county, to ensure that counties have proportional and fair housing to meet current demand (and even to address future need).


Housing specialists are people that work to find adequate housing on an individual level, and connecting those people with supportive services.[15] On a state level, policy that could prove useful could be creating more of these positions and assigning them as they see fit (by county, state congressional districts, per 100,000 people, etc.). Creating these positions makes the connection to resources more accessible, and allows for a consistent point of contact for those aiming to maintain a permanent and stable residency.[16]


Homelessness is not a problem that can be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach, especially when rates in rural areas are climbing faster than they are in metropolitan areas of the state. As observed when areas are well-funded, problems begin to be remedied. Reallocating funding to be proportionately poured into building units and creating new jobs as part of housing first policy will greatly benefit rural Georgians and bring new life into affected communities.