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Gwinnett to consider joining homeless coalition

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett could join a metro Atlanta council on homelessness, paving the way for a grant to build a local shelter, if commissioners agree today to pay $22,500 for the first year's fee.

Health and Human Services Director Cathy Kimbrel said subsequent fees for the United Way's Regional Commission on Homelessness will cost about $30,000 each year but could bring about grant money and other aid for children and families living on the streets or in their cars.

"I think we have a reason to be of assistance where we can," Chairman Charles Bannister said, noting that Gwinnett was the last of the core metro Atlanta jurisdictions to join the effort. "I think it's a 'good Samaritan' cause."

While recent surveys only found about 400 homeless people in Gwinnett, officials estimate the actual number is closer to 20,000 people living in extended-stay hotels, on the streets, in their cars, in garages or storage facilities or in transitional housing.

The Salvation Army has expressed an interest in building a homeless shelter in Gwinnett, but officials with that group did not return a phone call Monday.

"The price of joining this is going to be repaid many, many times over," said Marina Peed of the IMPACT Group, a nonprofit that helps low-income people and first-time homebuyers.

With rising foreclosure rates and increasing housing and utility costs, affording shelter is becoming a bigger problem in the suburbs, Peed said.

Her group received 250 requests for transitional housing last year but the group only has 12 units. About 8,000 of the emergency assistance requests in 2005 were from homeless people and 16,500 were from people who were close to losing their housing.

"It's a big deal in Gwinnett, and most of the folks we see who are having problems are employed but are employed in low-wage jobs. ... It's kind of a perfect storm of economics, and it falls heaviest on the ones with the least resources," she said. "It's becoming more difficult to attain the dream of home ownership."

The Regional Commission on Homelessness began in 2003 as an outgrowth of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's call for a plan to end homelessness in 10 years.

Gwinnett is the largest county in Georgia not involved in the coalition, which includes the city of Atlanta and Clayton, Cobb, Douglas, DeKalb, Fulton and Rockdale counties.