Opinion piece by George Chidi
The kind of help that the people at this shelter need is not something that can be done by offering a sandwich in a drive by, and then taking a selfie for your Instagram page. Handing out sandwiches or pastries from the back of your car will make you feel good about yourself, as you drive away without commitment, but it actually causes more harm than help.
Are you surprised to hear that? I was surprised.
I started working on homelessness downtown about a year ago. Right now, in front of this shelter, outside this shelter, are about a dozen men and women who are living on the street. Most suffer from profound mental illness or addiction; often both.
They're not actually in the shelter, of course. They're near it because they're part of the ecosystem of drug trafficking nearby.
Why here? They know people will see them and stop by with food. That happens a half a dozen times a day. No one is starving here.
Now, I get it. People see misery and ask why no one does anything. So they grab sandwiches because they want to help solve a problem. But I've seen this interferes directly in the outreach by licensed social workers from Mercy Care and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to people who are mentally ill and refusing help.
It takes months to build relationships with these guys in order to get them to say yes when offered supportive housing and treatment. Many don't want help and don't think they have a problem. That's a common consequence of schizophrenia.
And why would they listen to a social worker who wants them to get housed and clean when other people are helping them stay chemically dependent right where they are? Especially since those other people won't be in their face after giving them a sandwich and a couple bucks, right?
If you really want to help, connect with one of the many, many, many social service organizations and charitable groups that work consistently downtown on these issues:
- Atlanta Mission
- HOPE Atlanta
- The United Way
- Mercy Care
- Central Presbyterian Church
- The Gateway Center
- My Sister's House
- Lost-N-Found Youth
- Covenant House
- City of Refuge
- SafeHouse Outreach
If you're not ready to commit to the long-term relationship necessary to solve this problem, please don't get in the way of people who are.
DISCLAIMER: This segment represents the views of the commentator and not necessarily those of FOX 5 Atlanta.