I-TEAM: One-stop shop for homeless opens in Augusta

Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 7:16 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Augusta commission approved forming a homeless task force a year ago as the city’s homeless population skyrocketed 150 percent in just a few months during the pandemic.

Now a new plan is being put into action to combat the homeless and affordable housing crisis in the city head-on.

A key component of the plan is First Stop for families on the brink of homelessness.

It’s meant to streamline services to give families one place to go for help rather than having agencies scattered throughout the city.

That barrier to access was exposed in a series of ITEAM reports last year.

Senior investigative reporter Liz Owens was at First Stop as it opened for the first time and found it works as a triage for our homeless population.

First Stop is a centralized location where families on the brink of homelessness can access various resources within walking distance of the shelter. It’s one of several key components of a new strategic plan. But we also found that plan is not without a few hiccups.

Last fall, our ITEAM exposed barriers like lack of transportation keeping our homeless population from accessing services scattered across the county.

First Stop now neighbors the Kroc Center providing access to services like credit counseling, foreclosure prevention, legal aid, DFCS, a food pantry, rental and utility assistance, and veteran and mental health services.

“All of those pieces are here under one roof. And this was going to be all the things on facing.” Derek Dugan is with the Salvation Army.

He is part of the team that wrote the strategic plan recently passed by the commission.

But the ITEAM found there is a missing puzzle piece: Serenity. That is the state provider for mental health services had an office near the Kroc Center and another one downtown, but both are now closed.

Serenity tells the ITeam that part of the problem is state regulations require them to operate at a full-time level and staffing no longer allows them to do it near downtown and it closed its office here just this week with no explanation.

Another hiccup along the way: weekly street outreach that began last week is already straining the only family shelter in town.

“The Salvation Army Center of Hope right now is bursting at the seams. We have cots in all available areas,” explains Dugan.

Last August, the average nightly count at the shelter was between 90 and 100 people. Now it is around 160 in a 135-bed shelter.

“In short, it is redirecting people from the homeless camps. They are not being allowed to stay on public property they are not being allowed to stay in dangerous circumstances and are being redirected to the shelter, rightly so because that’s where they can receive the services, where they can receive housing food, clothing, everything they need.”

Another need outlined in the plan is more affordable housing. The Commission passed the tiny homes ordinance, another component of the 2022 Homeless Task Force’s strategic plan.

The plan is not much different than the 2009 plan the city adopted to end homelessness within ten years.

“I mean, did the previous plan was based on the people and their intentions and their plans to make it work? And once the people had moved on, the office holders had moved on,” says Dugan. “There was nothing tying them to the promises made.”

During this go-around, the task force added a new component and perhaps, the most important: accountability among agencies.

The accountability portion varies depending on the agency involved. The Salvation Army made a five-year commitment to working with the Task Force.

CSRA EOA has a contract. As far as penalties go for breaking any agreement or contract- there are none. First Stop will open at the beginning of October.