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A city within a city, Atlanta’s biggest homeless camp right next to Buckhead

A city within a city Altanta's biggest homeless camp right next to Buckhead

Tucked away inconspicuously off Buford Highway in Atlanta lies one of the city’s most sizable yet overlooked homeless enclaves – a makeshift village residents fittingly call “The Hill.” Estimated at between 100-200 occupants, the crowded ad-hoc community has evolved over years to address various survival needs within a self-governed township fighting social invisibility.


Inside, homeless identify as “Hillians” in embracing their environs. A sense of identity and ownership empowers those feeling abandoned by systems beyond the brush. Tribal affiliations matter when days center around securing the next meal or contending for prime panhandling turf against other camps. A communal hierarchy highlights those contributing supplies, medical aid or protection services.


Tracy Thompson of the non-profit Elizabeth Foundation confirms that while The Hill’s occupancy fluctuates, its visibility reflects growing crises of affordable housing stock and supportive resources failing to meet demand across metro Atlanta following COVID-19 livelihood hit. “There’s definitely not enough shelters to house people, and there aren’t shelters accommodating couples needing to stay together for safety, which remains a huge problem,” Thompson said.


Her group seeks engaging Hillians to build trust and steer them toward permanent stability options, but years surviving repression and public indifference leaves many wary of external aid. Still, recent initiatives like the city’s PATH Force agency aiming to transition unwilling homeless into more lasting housing points to incremental progress. Outreach teams brave suspicions and safety concerns to make inroads convincing camp dwellers that alternatives exist if receptive. They hope adding mini security stations and portable bathrooms around Hill peripheries lures some toward better provisions awaiting just beyond the brush line.


But the psychological comforts of established communal bonds complicates uprooting those finding purpose in liberation from conformity, even if at the costs of safety and health. “More emergency resources now exist since COVID, but having the consistent hours of engagement needed when many homeless harbor distrust remains an obstacle,” Thompson notes. Her organization keeps needs simple for anyone motivated to help – collect funds to hire waste disposal services to clear excessive garbage piles accumulating, and donate rodent traps to counter concerning infestations.


ASAP has donated more than 100 tents through charities for temporary housing for homeless people. More will be donated to help in the future.


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