The City of Atlanta is deploying outreach teams to ensure victims of an HIV housing program crisis have a place to live and launching an overhaul of the long-troubled program.
The restructuring of the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program comes as evictions loom for people living with HIV and housing agencies fume as the city sits on $40 million in unspent HOPWA funds and finds itself at the center of an explosive lawsuit.
The city is planning to move HOPWA oversight from the Office of Grants Management and Office of Human Services and to the Continuum of Care department, which is managed by the non-profit Partners for Home.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, facing mounting criticism from HIV activists, housing advocates and even some of her own LGBTQ advisors, announced the changes on Thursday. The mayor said the city has made several structural and leadership changes in the city’s grants management operations since she took office in 2018.
“However, it is evident that the long-standing, systemic issues with grants management require a more comprehensive restructuring to effectively serve the housing needs of those with HIV/AIDS,” she said in a statement.
Bottoms (photo) also praised Cathryn Marchman, executive director of Partners for Home.
“Cathryn has years of experience in addressing the needs of Atlanta’s underhoused and we can build upon the existing Continuum of Care infrastructure to ensure timely processing, the making of key hires and other measures necessary to support and provide for our city’s most vulnerable residents,” she said.
The HOPWA restructuring needs approval from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, Atlanta City Council and Partners for Home.
Outreach teams deployed across city
While the Bottoms administration works on getting the restructuring plan approved, Partners for Home is coordinating a Housing Relocation Team to find housing for HOPWA clients at risk of eviction.
That team will be comprised of the Office of Grants Management, Office of Human Services, Department of Constituent Services, service providers and HIV/AIDS advocates. They will meet weekly until all HOPWA clients are identified and re-housed, according to the city.
The city has also established two outreach operations to ensure housing stability for HOPWA clients. Field teams led by the Office of Human Services were deployed on Tuesday to apartment buildings across the city that house HOPWA clients at risk of eviction.
HOPWA clients who need housing relocation assistance should call 704-584-9385 for support and referrals. A call to that number on Friday went to voicemail and the message said that callers would hear back within 24 hours.
The city will schedule a HOPWA community engagement session and reschedule a HOPWA Advisory Committee meeting. That meeting was supposed to occur Wednesday, but the city canceled just minutes before it was to begin. It was the fourth of five meetings that the city had canceled since the committee’s formation in January.
The cancelation led a group of nearly 100 advocates to demand that Atlanta City Council return from a two-week recess to vote on authorizing $1.5 million in emergency aid for eight entities affected by the HOPWA crisis. The group also sent a letter to Bottoms expressing their "total loss of faith and confidence" in the city's ability to manage HOPWA. They requested the city reimburse HOPWA agencies "immediately" and that management of HOPWA be moved to Partners for Home.
The council needs eight members for a quorum to hold the special meeting, according to Council President Felicia Moore. Councilmember Antonio Brown is coordinating with other members and city CFO Roosevelt Council to convene the meeting and distribute the funds, according to an email exchange reviewed by Project Q Atlanta. The city council meeting has not been scheduled.
The city terminated the contract of HOPWA agency Living Room on July 3, claiming it wasn’t in compliance with HUD. Living Room sued the city this week over allegations that city officials retaliated against the agency after spurned romantic advances and claims of "flagrant breaches" by the city in its HOPWA program.