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Atlanta’s Regional Commission on Homelessness

by Debi Starnes, Atlanta

After she earned her Ph.D. in community and organizational psychology from Georgia State University in 1987, Debi Starnes founded EMSTAR Research in Atlanta, and continues to serve as the firm’s president. Active in Atlanta’s life and growth, she served for 12 years on the City Council and has sat on the boards of several community organizations, including the Atlanta Medical Center, the Gateway Center, and the Atlanta Developmental Authority. Debi Starnes serves today on the Regional Commission on Homelessness, Atlanta’s central agency for services to the homeless.
The United Way of Atlanta formed the Regional Commission on Homelessness in 2003 with the goal of ending homelessness in the region within 10 years. During its first decade, the commission created 1,600 housing units, reunified more than 6,000 individuals, and served more than 13,000 people at the Gateway Center. It developed and implemented 29 different strategies to fight chronic homelessness, and helped more than 1,200 people to find employment.
One of the commission’s most important resources is the Outreach Collaboration Team, which consists of more than 20 agencies and organizations, each with multidisciplinary experience. Among these are the Atlanta Police Department, Grady Health Systems, the Community Court of the city of Atlanta, Behavioral Health Link and the Positive Outlook Foundation. These groups identify the chronically homeless in Atlanta, who traditionally are the hardest population to serve, and engage them with the goal of helping them find housing.
The commission currently operates four programs to assist the approximately 2,100 people who become homeless in Atlanta every year. Vets Connect is oriented toward veterans, who account for 21 percent of Atlanta’s homeless population, as opposed to 11 percent nationwide. Hospital-to-Home identifies homeless people who frequently use the emergency services at Grady Hospital, to engage with them and connect them with case managers. Street-to-Home is an early-morning outreach program that engages the homeless. The final program, the Gwinnett Reentry Intervention Program, or GRIP, identifies homeless offenders before they re-enter society and offers services to ease their transition and reduce the chance that they’ll re-offend.
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