Skip to main content

Cobb Co. organization expands program to help serve growing homeless population

By March 29, 2024April 11th, 2024Featured
Published: Mar. 29, 2024 at 6:04 PM EDT
COBB COUNTY, Ga. (Atlanta News First) – Homelessness is a big problem in cities across metro Atlanta, but advocates in Cobb County say it’s hitting their suburbs at an alarming rate.

It’s the reason why nonprofits are working hard to address this by expanding a program that moves people into permanent housing more quickly.

“We saw an increased need,” said Karen Cordero, Property Navigator with Open Doors. “As far as homelessness centered towards the inner city in the Metro areas. Recently, we’ve noticed that the poverty and homelessness issue has increased in the suburbs, such as Cobb County. And after doing research with the Continuum of Cares and different agencies, we were aware of the need. Then, that’s why the Cobb Homeless Alliance Program was created.”

The Cobb Homeless Alliance Program has been around for several years. The organization said it recently decided to expand.

“One of the biggest challenges that we were having, all agencies were having when it came to assisting with housing and housing intervention– was locating properties in Cobb County, that wanted to work with our programs, that would accept some of our clients because a lot of them come with barriers. So, they come with bad credit. Some of them may have past evictions and it’s very hard for us to negotiate with all of them on behalf of our clients and so Open Doors does that,” Melanie Kagan, Center for Family Resources CEO said.

Open Doors acts as a negotiator within the expanded program, working with several different agencies and over 650 apartment communities to help individuals with housing.

“What we do on a daily basis is to go out into the multi-family community, apartment community and we advocate for those individuals who are seeking affordable and safe housing,” Cordero said. “The individuals that we are advocating for may have rental barriers, such as criminal or income and what we do is, we try gather up several different apartment properties that are willing to work with these individuals, and we give the clients a choice to decide which property they would feel most comfortable residing in.”

So how did this partnership start?

“We decided last year to apply for funding that was available to do an expansion grant that would allow for Open Doors to contract with our Continuum of Care and help us find and locate housing and properties that would work with our clients so that we could get them housed faster,” Kagan said.

Ravin O’Bannon, a single mom of two little girls, reached out to The Center for Family Resources. She had been homeless for more than a year and a half.

“I became homeless after COVID, and I’d really fallen into a sucken place, and I placed my children with their grandparents.  I needed help,” O’Bannon said. “There were times I was sleeping in a Walmart parking lot for like a month. I would go to school, go to work and go to sleep in my car, wake up go to Planet Fitness to take a shower, go back to school, go back to work.”

“That was my lowest point where I needed help really bad,” she said.

Kagan said they saw a rise in families struggling to pay for their homes towards the end of the pandemic.

“We have always had suburban homelessness, that’s not a new thing. But we are seeing a growing number of families experiencing housing instability and becoming housing unsecured.  Mostly that’s because of the economic factors,” she said. “We’ve seen properties go from $200 to $400 a month increase at least renewals for families and their incomes aren’t keeping pace with that, and so now we’re at a place where we’ve just got families who can’t afford the housing that they’ve probably been in for a while.”

Data for the 2022-2023 school year shows thousands of homeless students.

“Cobb County Schools reported just under 1,500 registered students that were considered homeless and Marietta City Schools had another 450 close to 500. So, that’s close to 2,000 students in just our small county that are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity,” Kagan said. “I think they had an increase of about five or six percent. So, 52 or 54 percent of those students are living in hotels.”

O’Bannon reached out to The Center for Family Resources in late 2023.

“Through the Center for Family Resources, they helped me get with Open Doors. They told me to come apply here. I got the application. It was fairly simple. I filled it out. I paid my part, they paid their part, and I got our home, I think around Christmas time,” O’Bannon said.

Open Doors was able to help her surprise her children during Christmas.

Click here to read more and watch the interview