With the federal eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of July, homeless shelters are frantically gearing up for a potential spike in demand for their services.
Mellony Gaston, social services director at the Atlanta Children’s Shelter, said she worries the end of the eviction ban could have dire consequences. Many intown homeless shelters are already operating at full capacity, so facility leaders are scrambling to figure out how to deal with a potential influx of people seeking temporary housing.
“I get calls practically every single day,” Gaston said. The average applicant brings with them between one and three children, and if they can’t secure beds at a shelter, they might resort to living out of their cars or on the streets, she said.
The coronavirus pandemic had already spurred a “devastating” spike in homelessness nationwide, U.S. Housing and Urban Development chief Marcia Fudge said in March, according to NPR. Exacerbating matters, courts across metro Atlanta are already sitting on tens of thousands of eviction filings — landlord-tenant cases that can proceed once the moratorium is lifted — and housing experts anticipate a “tsunami” of new cases will roll in at the end of the month.
Local shelter operators like Gaston are racking their brains to figure out how to lessen the seemingly inevitable blow the wave of evictions could deal. In interviews with Atlanta Civic Circle, homeless services officials were not optimistic.
“I don’t know how they’re going to do it,” Gaston said of families staring down the barrel of eviction proceedings. “They couldn’t pay rent initially, and now they’ve got thousands of dollars of debt.”
Jack Hardin, chairman of the Gateway Center, a nonprofit that runs a downtown homeless shelter, echoed Gaston’s concerns, saying he thinks the impending eviction crisis could have a “tremendous” negative impact on Atlanta’s marginalized communities. He hopes government-backed assistance programs can assuage some effects.
“There will most likely be money available for rental support,” Hardin said, referring to federally funded eviction prevention initiatives, “but the process for getting that out is painfully slow.”
Cathryn Marchman, executive director of Partners for HOME, the city’s homeless outreach partner, said the distribution of those funds must be conducted “quickly, nimbly, and efficiently.”
Partners for HOME, Marchman said, has utilized some of that federal cash to prop up encumbered services for the homeless, as well as repurpose two hotels to provide stable housing for hundreds of people who got sick or were at risk of getting sick from COVID-19.
Marchman said she’s unsure how the moratorium’s expiration will impact local shelters, although she pointed out that people resort to finding refuge at them usually after they have “exhausted all other possible networks and resources.”
Rachel Reynolds, spokeswoman for the Atlanta Mission homeless shelter, said her organization, like others, is increasing shelter capacity after it was forced to reduce the number of available beds to allow for more distance between clients during the throes of the pandemic.
Additionally, Reynolds said, the Atlanta Mission intends to open a new shelter for women and children that’s slated to offer more than 100 beds to those in need. The shelter should be operational by the end of the year, she said.
While shelter operators are trying to find ways to offset the damage caused by the eviction ban’s expiration, the anticipated displacement might have the potential to overwhelm a system that is already at capacity. The hope is that within a few months, enough of the unemployed population will have jobs again, bringing some relief to shelters and placement programs. Until then, those trying to help solve the homelessness crisis in the city can only hope for the best and try to prepare for the worst.
Sean Keenan contributed research to this article.