The Buckhead Community Improvement District will contribute $50,000 in seed money to a major program aimed at solving chronic homelessness in the city.

HomeFirst Atlanta, a joint effort of the city and the United Way’s Regional Commission on Homelessness, aims to raise $50 million and leverage even more funds for a variety of tactics to provide housing and otherwise reduce chronic homelessness.

At the BCID’s Nov. 28 board meeting, member Thad Ellis of Cousins Properties said he and Executive Director Jim Durrett recently met with Jack Hardin, an Atlanta businessman well-known for his work on homeless assistance. Ellis said they learned that overall homelessness in Atlanta is decreasing, but chronic homeless is an increasing problem.

Durrett said Hardin’s pitch for HomeFirst is that homeless cannot be eliminated, because someone will always fall on hard times, but the goal is to “make it short-term, limited and not re-occurring.”

Buckhead’s own homeless population is not known with certainty, though several people often can be seen sleeping on the sidewalks of Peachtree Road. Ellis said, “It’s in the dozens, not hundreds.”

Ellis said that the lack of a reliable count of people experiencing homelessness is one problem with programs, and that HomeFirst intends to do a better census as part of providing outreach services.

Durrett said the $50,000, provided over two years, is similar to funds being provided by Downtown and Midtown CIDs.

Board member Robin Suggs, who manages the Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza malls, questioned the use of funds from the self-taxing business district, which generally exists to improve traffic, public safety and aesthetics. “I’m very supportive of the homeless issue, but does this fall into the purview of the CID?” she asked.

BCID attorney Lynn Rainey said he believes it is, under a bylaws clause that allows spending on anything with the effect of “encouraging development of the district.” The underlying idea is that having fewer homeless people visible on the streets would be good for business.

Keeva Kase, the president and CEO of Buckhead Christian Ministry works to help people who are homeless. He said his organization is not directly involved with the still-forming HomeFirst program, but praised it and the BCID.

“It’s a wonderful initiative, which BCM fully supports, and I applaud [the] CID for seeing its value and funding it,” Kase said.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.