Most nights, 58-year-old Atlanta native William Graves says he usually sleeps in uncomfortable spaces, ranging from at a bus stop to somewhere under a bridge trying to keep warm.
On this night, however, it’s 25 degrees. Any chance of receiving solace and a decent rest outdoors for the night is out of the question.
“If it gets too cold, you can’t lay down,” said Graves. “You got to keep walking, or you could die from [hypo]thermia.”
Graves and nearly 20 others, all without stable housing, are gathered at the North Dekalb Senior Center, waiting to be shuttled 20 miles away to Frontline Response, a Christian-based nonprofit organization.
Frontline Response, a Christian based nonprofit, provides assistance to Dekalb residents without adequate housing and experiencing freezing temperatures. (Julien Virgin/WABE)
Frontline and other warming centers alike are open upon DeKalb Emergency Management Agency’s decision — if temperatures drop under 35 degrees overnight for four consecutive hours.
“We have 20 dedicated beds for Decatur, 60 dedicated beds for Dekalb, and then 20 that can be flexed for people coming from either location,” said Jeff Shaw, the organization’s national expansion officer.
The 18-thousand-square-foot facility provides meals, transportation and serves as an overnight warming center for DeKalb County, the first time this year in taking on the latter role.
“That homeless man with no socks and no shoes when it’s 30 degrees out, that’s somebody’s brother or uncle. They’re people,” added Christina Porter, founder of the Chamblee Coalition on Homelessness.
A variety of cots are aligned in a room at the Frontline Response headquarters. (Julien Virgin/WABE)
Porter, who coordinates the shuttle pickup while handing out winter essentials to those in need, has lived in Chamblee for over 30 years, volunteering her time and money to help in any way possible.
Porter says that she’s advocated with Dekalb officials to help the un-housed, as the county does not own or operate a shelter.
However, Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, a representative of Dekalb County’s Super District 7, notes that the county has invested millions of dollars annually in services for people in need of housing.
“When individuals who are facing homelessness present themselves, we refer them out through our partners… and they provide housing for those individuals,” said Cochran-Johnson, who attributes the homelessness rate to the COVID-19 pandemic and rising cost of living.
According to a 2022 county-organized survey, Dekalb counted over 500 un-sheltered individuals and projected over two thousand people would be homeless, with fire stations and community centers being utilized as makeshift warming facilities, providing only four walls and a roof; even more of a reason why Graves says this new partnership is a blessing.
“This is the first opportunity I’ve had where I can actually say they [are] making an effort to sincerely get folks some help on the streets, especially when it’s cold.”