Saba Long is Atlanta Civic Circle’s executive director. She’s worked with a variety of civic organizations and government agencies over her career.

“We’re being evicted and are trying to survive in a car … Please help,” read the email I received in the wee hours of Saturday, April 8. 

I immediately flashed back to my days doing constituent services for a city council office and responded. I asked the 21-year-old young woman what county she and her 24-year-old boyfriend lived in and let her know I’d be back in touch.

Over the next 72 hours, I made calls, left voicemails, and sent texts, hitting roadblock after roadblock. This is what she’s dealing with, I thought to myself. No wonder she’s at her wit’s end. 

The United Way’s 2-1-1 line isn’t staffed on the weekends –– I later learned it is due to staffing shortages and changes made during the pandemic. On off hours, metro Atlanta residents can text the number to receive a tailored yet automated list of potential resources. 

I decided to rely on my contacts, reaching out to the CEOs of two of the largest nonprofits in metro Atlanta. One pointed me to shelters and housing organizations to contact; they also connected me to a helpful senior staffer. The other said they would help with job placements ––good news. But I still didn’t have a bed for this young couple on Saturday night. 

I also called the CEO of a nonprofit I’ve worked with, remembering they provided emergency relief support to individuals and families at the height of the pandemic. They were out of emergency funds for Fulton County, she told me, but she promised to connect the couple to her team. Less than an hour after we spoke, she forwarded me a text she’d just received from a woman with a child facing the same predicament. 

One shelter where I left a voicemail never got back to me. I called again Monday afternoon, but they were full. The staffer recommended the couple arrive by 8 a.m. the next day in hopes of making the waiting list for the night. What if they didn’t have transportation or money for a MARTA fare? Then what?

Another organization specializing in housing couples told me they have a waitlist for nearly three months. 

When I spoke to the young woman on Monday, she was on the verge of a full-fledged panic attack. They’d spent Sunday night at an Econo Lodge but didn’t have the funds to afford a second. 

Feeling utterly helpless, I again called one of the recommended organizations I’d tried to reach over the weekend. The case manager asked if there was a substance abuse problem. “Not that I know of,” I said. She told me they couldn’t do much but was happy to talk to the young lady. I passed along her contact info. 

Monday night the couple made plans to sleep in a library parking lot. 

The young woman told me Tuesday that her grandmother is letting them stay with her for a few days, but even that isn’t guaranteed. Between the couple, both of their families are also struggling to survive. Her mother is currently in a shelter. There is no safety net for them to rely on during tough times. 

This experience has certainly given me a crash course in case management. It also crystallizes the crushing weight of economic insecurity in metro Atlanta. One eviction, one medical emergency, one missed paycheck–and everything changes.

Here are some of the gaps I see in the system here in Atlanta based on this one case: 

  • Metro Atlanta needs a real-time database of available beds by type of need. Instead of calling individual organizations and hoping someone answers–especially on the weekend–civic and government organizations that serve people needing shelter should be able to see what’s available at that moment and where across the five-county region. 
  • 2-1-1 should have live operators seven days a week. The staff I spoke with were incredibly helpful and responsive. But the after-hours text function is not much better than just browsing the web for a solution. 
  • We need more shelters that accept couples. One refrain I heard constantly was the pair would likely be separated, since they’re not married. I thought about this as I listened to the boyfriend gently calm his partner down and help her breathe through a breakdown. 
  • The need far outpaces the resources. From available beds to staffing to wraparound services, nonprofits need more funding to support metro Atlantans facing housing and economic insecurity. 

Since that early morning email, I’ve talked to this young lady daily, trying to connect her to resources and people who can help. And encouraging her not to give up. I’m hopeful that in the not-too-distant future, she and her boyfriend will look back on this challenging period and marvel at how far they’ve come. 

At Atlanta Civic Circle, we cover housing affordability, including the homelessness crisis –– from those living in motels to the unhoused. Our reporters are shining a light on what’s working and what’s not, talking with community organizations and impacted residents.

There are more stories than we have the capacity to write. More questionable policies than we’re able to cover. More data than we’re able to sift through. 

If you care about housing affordability and ensuring metro Atlanta is a place where we address poverty with compassion and determination, please support our work

ACC is committed to using the power of the pen, the empowering approach of solutions-oriented storytelling and conversation to spark change. That’s our role in helping to build the beloved community and a metro Atlanta we’re all proud to call home. 

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  1. I kept hoping the next sentence would read “and they all lived happily ever after” but it didn’t.
    This is a crisis and yes, there needs to be streamlined a way to match people with resources. Thanks for telling it like it is.

  2. There’s only one couples shelter here in Atlanta and that’s Zabans. That’s NOT a place to be. If they want to be empowered then don’t go to Zabans Couples Center. My husband and I were there. They sell you a bill of goods and then they switch up on you. Oh the stories I could tell. They claim to help everyone with housing but the don’t. Volunteers bring clothes and food, but one member of the staff would have a shopping bag FULL OF CLOTHES AND FOOD every night. She was the intake coordinator at that time. The reason why you were told there was no room is because the program ends May 15th. It begins in the fall. There was 3 couples left because they found ways of kicking out everyone else. They would beg us to stay.because they had to look good with the Temple next door. That was their main supporters and founders of the program. That one person (intake) who was so mean to everyone like everything was coming out of her pocket. But she would act like she was soo nice smh Ohhhh the Stories I could tell. Good thing I video taped most of our journey there. Maybe I should write a book about our experiences in Atlanta and the homeless.

  3. Please cover more stories like this it very much needed. It gives the overcomers a voice and an opportunity to encourage others.

  4. This is a huge problem. My family is dealing with this problem right now. Our daughters stay with my mom and we sleep in the car. We make decent money and still can’t find someone to rent to us after our eviction. We got behind on rent and could not catch up in time due to covid related issues. My mom got disabled during the pandemic and is now booked in hotels full time until we can figure out where to next. I just read an article stating that homelessness has gone down 40% since the pandemic. How??? Do they know that I’m homeless? I see people sleeping in the car all over the metro and surrounding cities. It seems it’s safer to stay in your car than the shelters. From what I’m seeing out here in the streets, more and more people are becoming homeless and no one is talking about it. That’s why I’m happy to see this article that can bring more awareness to this crisis. We need to bring more awareness to this. Cost of living is high, jobs are not paying enough, and help is not there. What is life if you worked 90% of the time and still can’t keep a roof over your head? I’m not a drug addict. Even if I were, nobody deserves this. People are basically working for free to keep this economy running and corporate America to be rich and us to be poor. Look around. People are not truly happy out here. All people complain about is having to work so much just to have a consistent place to put their heads at night. I hope more and more people speak up about this.

  5. I’m going through the same thing I’m being evicted and I have three kids also to all my kids are disabled. We have nowhere to go and we don’t have no security deposit. There is nowhere in Connecticut. I’ve been looking for home and help over the past six months.

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