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8:30 AM on Thursday, April 5, 2012 at Georgia Tech Research Center

Good morning everybody. How are you all?

I want to thank all of you for being here today for the kickoff session of our Street Homelessness Initiative.

Your attendance today is testament to all of your concerns and commitments to this issue, as well the sincere desire of you and your organizations to make a long and lasting impact. And I am impressed with the sheer number of people from across our region today who have a sincere desire and, indeed, a passion about taking care of our own in Atlanta.

Before I continue, I want to recognize and thank all of the members of the City of Atlanta Innovation Team, who have been charged with finding and developing solutions to the problem we are here to talk about today. They include, of course, Kristin Wilson, the team’s director; Susan Lampley, who you just heard from; Regina Cannon, Emily Lieb, Emily Love and Myesha Good. Please give them a round of applause.

Thanks to a $3.1 million innovation delivery grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, they have gotten off to a terrific start in gathering information.

I also want you to know this. When we made the decision to apply for the Bloomberg grant, we literally could have applied for the grant for anything. And I wanted to apply in this space because I recognized that it was time for us to get started at this problem after taking a bit of a break.

I also want to acknowledge the unique university collaboration we have on this vital initiative that includes Emory, Clark-Atlanta, Georgia Tech and Georgia State. Through their work, we are going to have the latest and most significant data available to keep our work focused and strong.

Most of all, I want to thank all of the leaders here today from a myriad of backgrounds – the business community, of course the faith community, the funding community, NGOs, governments and housing organizations across the region. I appreciate your work and your continued efforts. So I want to thank you for being here today.

You know, combating the homeless challenge is not a new endeavor. In fact, I believe under Mayor Franklin we made the most aggressive efforts that we have ever made in the City of Atlanta certainly in my lifetime to bring an end to this problem.

That deserves a round of applause … and an enormous amount of credit.

And what I have is, you know the first two years we were facing some really tough times in Atlanta. And focusing on the fiscal challenges of the city, I think, causes us to get our eye off the ball a bit.

So today is the next step in the down payment on our commitment to make sure that Atlanta is not a only city that is too busy to hate, but to make sure that we are not too busy to love as well. And you are a vital part of that.

And so my administration is making good on that promise today … right here … right now.

And what you are going to see are more and more resources, more and more talent, put to this problem so that you have very special partners working with you.

To Kristin, Susan and the entire Innovation Delivery Team – they have completed a tremendous amount of work. Going out and talking to you, hearing directly from you, preparing to tackle this issue.

But we cannot go further without you.
As city leaders and officials, we can use our influence at the state and local levels to generate interest and support. We can broker new relationships across our city and state as well as bring in new ideas and best practices from across the United States of America.

We can encourage the development of a shared strategy that can become a model for other cities and states.

And we have been sending our team out across the United States of America going where the best solutions are.

But we cannot finish this race alone.

That’s why we are going to work with strategic partners, like the Regional Commission on Homelessness, the United Way and all of the stakeholders in this room. Every single one of you is going to have a voice.

I want to take a moment to praise the Regional Commission, which has made tremendous strides with the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. Thanks to your work, our city did not see a spike in the homelessness count over the past few years even though there was an economic downturn complete with skyrocketing unemployment and foreclosure rates.

I believe that was because of you.

You would think that we would see a greater number of people without shelter on the streets. And we are seeing some of that, but it’s certainly not as bad as it could have been without the help that you have all provided.

The challenges are strong because we do not want to simply keep the homeless count level, we want them to go down. We want to change peoples’ lives.

We are also seeing a broader range of faces on our streets … more and more faces of our veterans, families with young children and youth … unaccompanied ... yet living unsheltered.

That’s not the Atlanta I know. And we are certainly better than that.

We are going to change that … and change it dramatically. That’s why I am so glad that Dr. Donna Beagle is here today. She was here a few weeks ago, and I had the pleasure to attend her visit and hear her lecture then. Which is why we wanted her to come back. She is a very powerful woman, who can offer us a great deal of sound advice.

We also need to hear directly from our fellow Atlantans who have experienced or are currently living without shelter. Because they can tell us best what the greatest needs are as well as give us valuable insights into the best ways to meet those needs.

Now I do want to say one word personally.

I was sitting in my office dealing with the many issues that we all deal with day-in, day-out.

And then I got a batch of letters from our own children. And it said that who will inherit the city that we are watching.

So the other day, I opened up a letter from the Children’s School in the City of Atlanta. Commissioner Garner, they’re in your district, in your commission district.

There was one letter that touched my heart, in particular. It was from a nine-year-old named Molly Watkins, who wrote to me and expressed to me her concern about people living without homes having to live in their cars. This nine-year-old passionately talked about that even though we see people on the street … that doesn’t mean that we can treat them like trash.

But there is one part of her letter that perhaps says it better than anything that I can say.

She wrote:

“Mayor Reed, please close your eyes and step into a homeless child’s shoes and feel how hard it is to do the things that we do today. Do you feel the way they get treated? When I close my eyes I see people laughing and treating me like a poor, little ant. When I close my eyes, I feel like my life, my world, and my way is gone. Now open your eyes and feel the life that you have and compare. When I finish doing this I feel that this poverty stuff is just plain wrong and should be changed so nobody and I mean nobody is homeless.”

I want her to know today that I hear her loud and clear. And with your support, we are going to turn the tide of this terrible presence in our city.

I say all of the time, and I think it is really appropriate in this regard: If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go with others.

The work you have been doing is extraordinary work, really special work. But you haven’t been getting enough help from the City of Atlanta.

I’m here today to commit to you and to tell you we’ve put together a first-rate team. We’ve put together the resources to make real change.

So I’m very hopeful that beginning today, we will go far together. And because of our energy, our passion and our vigor, there will be people who will have their lives changed in a deeply profound way.

And that little nine-year-old girl will see people’s lives changed and know she made a difference.

God bless you all. Thank you for giving me a minute.
Last updated: 4/6/2012 9:37:51 AM