Athens and homelessness seem to go hand-in-hand, but today there are several obstacles in place that prevent progress within the community, and rather instill those affected into harsh cycles of poverty.
While there are several nonprofit outreach programs within the community, much of what is holding these people back steams from unresolved issues within the system that prevent people from applying to jobs and making the money they need to support themselves and their families.
“A lot of times I see people that look like perfectly capable people. And I think why, especially in Athens, the only thing I could think of is that the economy here just doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the entire population,” downtown resident, Garrett Cooper, said.
While Athens has several nonprofit homeless outreach programs, many times the population are turned down due to overcrowding and seasonal support efforts. Unable to reserve a safe place for the night, many are forced to sleep on the streets, saving up their change in hopes of someday creating a better life.
The National Coalition for the Homeless accredited the national homeless epidemic primarily to two factors, poverty and the lack of affordable housing. Athens has the 26th highest housing rate in the state, with the average wage needed to afford a two bedroom rental at $18.42 an hour, well above the minimum wage.
Robert Smith, a five year member of the Athens homeless population, said that he carries around his sleeping bag by day, and finds a quiet place downtown every night to make his bed.
“I think you can see it outside of the university. There are not many white-collar jobs, so there’s a lot of people fighting for stability in the city of Athens,” Cooper said.
While someone may be able to barely scrape by to afford their housing, individuals living in poverty are still vulnerable, with any small unforeseen cost putting them at risk to lose their home. For individuals affected by poverty things such as housing, food, childcare, health care, and education, must often be sacrificed for one another.