Last month, Atlanta Jewish Foundation (Foundation) convened a fascinating community conversation on housing and homelessness featuring a panel of local activists and advocates for change. The program provided a high-level forum on the many issues contributing to homelessness, with rich opportunities for frank dialogue to broaden understanding. The goal was to offer Foundation fundholders deeper insights that could inform and ignite their philanthropic giving and engagement around homelessness.

Moderating the conversation was Dr. Catherine (Katie) Kaukinen, Dean of the Norman J. Radow College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kennesaw State University. Panelists included leaders and activists from Gateway Center, Collaborative Housing Solutions, Repair the World Atlanta, and the Zaban Paradies Center. These organizations all approach different aspects of homelessness and housing, making for a robust and nuanced conversation.

We’ve all seen the homeless encamped along our highways or tucked into ravines at underpasses. We see veterans and others begging at traffic lights. Though we want to look away, the “unhoused” seem to be everywhere in Atlanta. We understand that gentrification has locked people out of affordable housing. But most of us are unaware of the “invisible homeless” who live in their cars or couch surf with family and friends. Most of them are working at low wage jobs, but simply do not have the income for the first and last month’s rent.

The panelists detailed how clients with mental illness, personal trauma, a history of incarceration, disability, and drug addiction make the situation even more complex. Many homeless clients have had violent experiences at shelters and deliberately choose to live outside that system. They prize their freedom and the “family” feeling that is created in homeless encampments. For the “invisible homeless” our panelists revealed that Walmart parking lots are a popular haven for families living in their cars.

There was consensus among our experts that the U.S. is in a unique economic moment where unemployment is low, yet rents are at an all-time high. Even as wages rise, it is impossible for many workers to scrape together first and last month’s rent to lease an apartment. Further complicating the matter, rental inventory is low as homes and apartments are being scooped up by corporate entities that are holding them for appreciation.

But there is hope! These organizations are pioneering new financing options to create more affordable rental housing. They are collaborating with each other to weave a smarter safety net and improved mental health services for the unhoused. See below to learn more about them and consider supporting their work.

Gateway Center is committed to providing effective, strategic, and innovative programs and services that respond to the needs of the homeless community. Gateway Center programs are designed to address the underlying barriers that prevent individuals and families from transitioning out of homelessness, such as unemployment, behavioral health, housing affordability, and/or medical conditions.

Zaban Paradies Center has been known for changing the lives of couples experiencing homelessness and instability and is one of the only shelters in the country serving couples. Beginning in 2021, the organization broadened its scope of services. Many of the couples it serves have dependent children, so The Center serves not just couples in crisis but the entire family. They are now dedicated to providing families in crisis with essential services to help them achieve economic stability and well-being.

Collaborative Housing Solutions provides development expertise and creative solutions to help owners and developers fulfill their mission of providing quality affordable rental housing for low-income households.

Repair the World Atlanta mobilizes young Jews and their communities to take action to pursue a just world, igniting a lifelong commitment to service. Repair the World fellows support the work of grassroots Atlanta organizations with a special emphasis on housing, food, and education justice.