Homeless in Athens: The Invisibles



Photo by J MONSON

A homeless man who goes by just his first name Michael He is holding up his broken wrist that he received when he got jumped for being homeless. The people jumped him and took what little money he had.

 Lizzy Mae slowly walks up and attempts a half smile. She looks to be in her mid 60’s, but she is much younger than that. Many of her teeth are missing and she struggles to talk, her small frame slightly bent over. She looks like she could be someone’s grandmother. Lizzy squints into space and begins to tell her story.  

Lizzy is one of the estimated 215 homeless people that call the streets of Athens, Georgia home.  Many people don’t see the day-to-day struggles of the homeless

 Lizzy Mae, suffers from mental and physical issues and she has a difficult time trying to explain to me that someone “hurt her home,” which was located under a bridge in Athens. Some of her friends said that someone actually did set her makeshift shelter on fire last year, which happened to be underneath city gas line. Due to that fire, the police have now banned all homeless people from living under any bridges in Athens. When Lizzy can find a bed, she spends the night at the Bigger Vision homeless shelter. 

   The homeless of Athens face many troubles as they attempt to simply get through the day. Mental issues, violence, hopelessness, substance abuse, little chance of finding a job, and the constant reinforcement that they are often viewed as a lower class of humans, helps to reinforce their misery. For these reasons all the homeless people that I interviewed only gave me their first name, for privacy reasons.

   I spoke with Michael a homeless man that has lived on the streets for the past 30 years. Michael said, “ I was walking through a part of town looking for a place to sleep. I guess some guys realized I was homeless and they jumped on top of me and robbed me. They got all my money, and one of them broke my wrist. It just shows that when you roam the streets you are more likely to get in trouble and get hurt.”    

   Michael held up his wrist it was extremely swollen and badly bruised. He didn’t want to go to the hospital because he didn’t have any money and is afraid of needles. 

   Assault on homeless people is not rare; The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that there have been over 1,184 reported attacks on homeless people in the past 12 years. People often blame homelessness on personal failings, but many times the person may have experienced a traumatic life event and just did not have a support system to fall back on.  

   I spoke with Mike, another homeless man in Athens, and he told me that he had a home in Walton County that he built for his son and his wife. Mike explains,” You know, we got into a divorce and I lost the house and my wife. You know, going through that changed things. But life (sic) grows on.”  Mike now lives in the woods; surrounding Athens, he thinks of himself as a long-term camper.

   What can the average person do to help the homeless of Athens? When asked this question many of the homeless people told me that they would ask people to care about them and try to understand their struggles. Dave, a former homeless man who now lives in an apartment in Athens said,” Give them some help, all they need is one chance. A chance to get a job and get out of their situation, just one chance.”