Poor and Homeless in the Deep South

The Washington Post published a deep look into the plight of the poor and jobless in the southern United States. Much of the story focuses on south Atlanta, and the challenges one woman, a single mother with a young child, has with finding a job. The story opens with the woman trying to get from a homeless shelter in Forest Park to a company in the Fulton Industrial District; a journey of less than half an hour by car, but almost two hours by bus and train.

Aboard the bus, Scott zigzagged through Clayton County, an area that runs south from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and has transformed over 25 years from majority white to majority black, its poverty rate rising during that span from 9 percent to 24 percent. A generation of poor people resettled here after Atlanta shuttered inner-city housing projects, and now title loan and pawn shops were the lone life in sleepy strip malls; traffic backed up for an hour to wait in line at a weekly food pantry; and at a blood plasma center where people could get up to $50 for donations, lines formed many mornings around the building before the 7:30 a.m. opening.

The long commute is illustrative of one of the main themes of the article: a lack of decent mass transit options for the poor makes it very difficult for those without a car to get around to find work, let alone make a daily commute. The other focus is on how, beginning with welfare reform instituted back when Bill Clinton was president and Newt Gingrich was speaker of the house disrupted the safety net systems southern poor relied on, including housing projects and cash welfare.

Over the past 20 years, Atlanta’s wealthiest areas, spread along the north of the city, have changed little. But formerly middle-class suburbs to the south — areas of modest single-family homes — have been deluged by newcomers who lost homes as city officials dismantled dozens of housing projects in the hopes of reducing concentrated poverty. Experts who have studied Atlanta’s economic geography say the change has been partly successful; class no longer changes so clearly between neighborhoods, but meanwhile, the poor — given modest vouchers to help subsidize their housing costs — must head far from the city to find places they can afford.

“This city hasn’t built out its society,” said Deborah Scott, the executive director of an area nonprofit organization, Georgia Stand-Up, that focuses on low-income communities. “We’ve given the suburbs to the poorer people, but the opportunities aren’t here.”

There’s a lot more to the article than what can be excerpted in a blog post. Read the whole thing.


  1. seekingtounderstand says:

    Whats the problem we are trying to solve……….this person needs a car.
    There are so many used cars coming to the market when the credit bubble pops.
    How about leasing her a car for a year.
    Problem solved.
    Spending and wasting money on Marta who’s track record is not worthy of more investment, as a tax payer our money would go better towards giving her access to a car. Its safer for a single mother.

  2. seekingtounderstand says:

    Why doesn’t her child receive welfare? And when I said leasing her a car, a meant at very low cost.

  3. gcp says:

    The problem here is not so much lack of transportation or lack of welfare payments. The main problems are that she is a single mother with an inadequate education and she has a criminal history.

  4. saltycracker says:

    The safety net is a hammock, not only in welfare for the poor but in non-poverty parents enabling their children. The endless circle of poverty, bad decisions and unqualified will continue as long as we haphazardly fund it or bad parents act in a way keep them enabled.

    Should we leave a child to starve ? No. Should we hand a mother a food card and money to go away….no.

  5. George Chidi says:

    The commentary here is predictable. Sadly.

    “How about leasing her a car for a year?” Because there’s some bucket of money in Georgia, somewhere, to do that for her … one that doesn’t get completely depleted in about three days once the enormous maw of need discovers it. Right?

    Thirty-three states use a cash diversion program for case workers to make grants to people who need short-term assistance rather than requiring full enrollment in TANF which the Heartland Institute (of all places) says creates needless dependency. Georgia is not one of these states.

    Note a figure in this story: “Among more than 64,000 people living in poverty in Clayton County, 137 adults receive welfare, according to Georgia government data.” While there are millions of Georgians receiving federal aid like Medicaid or food stamps — because it’s a pass-through benefit that the state doesn’t really control — there are only about 16,200 people receiving temporary cash assistance, three quarters of whom are children.

    The poverty rate in Georgia is 18.3 percent. That’s about 1.8 million people. The deep poverty rate is 8.2 percent — about 830,000 people. About 4000 of the adults in this group have asked for cash for something like a car lease and actually got it.

    This isn’t someone who wants to work the system. This is someone who wants to work, period. The infrastructure or lack thereof makes that harder, and there’s no snap-your-fingers solution to that any armchair analyst on this board is going to come up with.

    I was in Woodruff Park yesterday, speaking with a homeless man, who told me that he had a job offer earlier this year to work at a restaurant as a sous chef — a profession for which he appears amply trained — at a decent middle-class income in Peachtree City. But he couldn’t take it, because he had neither a place to stay there, nor the means to travel. People BS me all the time. But I suspect a grain of truth to that story.

    We’re in Georgia. We live among the worst poverty in America. Our attitudes about creating infrastructure so that the poor can climb out of the cellar show in how we spend money.

    • saltycracker says:

      “and there’s no snap-your-fingers solution to that any armchair analyst on this board is going to come up with.”

      Bingo. That’s why we elect smart guys…..choke…..as for your sous chef, got to call a BS. More likely it isn’t what he wants to do but has to offer you a “rational” reason……if he is smart enough to be a sous chef he is smart enough to figure out Housing below Atlanta and cheap cars, if he wanted.

  6. Dave Bearse says:

    Placing primary focus on transit as transportation for the poor does little to broaden support for transit.

    • George Chidi says:

      Agreed. Somehow, we need to start thinking about transit the way Boston and New York do: moving people around the city. The T in Boston is egalitarian, and everyone rides it out of utter necessity. The T was constructed in a city built on paved cowpaths, with a historical structure every hundred yards.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        It’s necessary that a much larger fraction of the population at least think they could use MARTA, even if the never or infrequently do. Appealing to people that have transportation choices is a different and higher bar for MARTA.

        Maximizing efficiency in the moving people without choices is science. The former is much more art.

        Ultimately parking is going to have to cost much more, and/or highway congestion is going to become mush worse, and/or density of development much greater.

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