I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Housing!

By Tripp Liles

Nothing goes with summer like ice cream, especially the homemade variety, and on Aug. 26 you will have an excellent opportunity to taste some of the best around at the Annual Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’ held on the Historic Square in Roswell. The event is a fundraiser of The Drake House, which provides housing programs to homeless single mothers and their children in North Metro Atlanta.

“Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’ was the brainchild of Rev. Joe Clifford, an original Drake House board member,” said Christy Merritt, director of programs at Drake House. “Now 14 years later members of the community enjoy this annual event where they can taste over 150 flavors of homemade ice cream made by our dedicated community volunteer ice cream ‘crankers’ comprised of local corporate, civic, faith, and family teams. The ‘crankers’ make homemade ice cream and compete for top awards by local judges. Categories include: Best Vanilla, Best Chocolate, Best Fruit, and Best Other Flavor.”

While the event fosters a great sense of community and is a blast for everyone, there is a serious side, as it also serves as a fundraiser for The Drake House, and their vitally important mission of providing short-term housing for single mothers and their children. We live in an area where poverty is sort of hidden but believe me, it is there. We have homeless children right here in our own schools, right now as you read this, I guarantee you there are dozens of kids who have inadequate nourishment and no housing within a few miles of you. Poverty is not something that you can move to the suburbs to get away from. Fortunately we have strong community leaders and individuals who work tirelessly to assist those less fortunate.

“Poverty in North Fulton certainly has a different face than what most envision when hearing the word homeless,” said Merritt. “The Drake House works closely with Fulton School Social Workers and other nonprofits who serve low income families to identify single mothers with children who may have lost their housing.”

In that regard, the mission of The Drake House is quite unique. This is more than an organization that provides housing to the approximately 50 families they serve each year, rather they provide life skills to help these women get on their feet, obtain proper employment, and most importantly, learn the financial skills needed to survive. Essentially they live by an adage of: “Give a woman a fish, and you feed her for a day. Teach a woman to fish, and you feed her for a lifetime.”

That is an important aspect to note, because of the growing impact of wage disparity in this nation, and the steep rise in the cost of housing. The challenges of raising children and living on low-income pay are difficult, to say the least.

“There is a shortage of fulltime jobs that fit traditional daycare hours which presents a challenge for our moms with young children. Our residents also need superhuman budgeting skills to make ends meet so we address that need in our life skills classes. And of course, a lack of public transit complicates the financial picture when low credit scores result in high interest rate car loans,” said Merritt.

These issues are playing out in front of us as we all deal with the cost of higher home prices and reliable transportation. Politically speaking, on a local level there is little appetite for low-income housing or public transportation. The result of which is downward pressure on local businesses that rely on these people to staff their businesses. In speaking with many local restaurant owners, all express concern of the labor force and note that even paying higher wages does not solve the problem. Bottom line is no one will travel and go through the trouble of commuting long distances for a low paying job. A community that is thriving must have a mix of workers available to provide a wide array of services. At present this is affecting the lower wage earners but if things increase it will hit teachers and other municipal workers next. For context, in San Francisco right now a job paying $100,000 per year is considered low income.

“Atlanta has one of the fastest growing segments of suburban poverty in the country. And as our economy improves, rents continue to escalate. We are seeing more and more of our graduates moving their children out of our area and their school in order to find affordable housing,” said Kathy Swahn, executive director of Drake House. “An ideal situation would be for our municipal leadership to encourage development of  multi-income housing within our six North Fulton cities. When people can’t afford to live in the city where they work, you will see traffic grow exponentially. We have a task force of community leaders that have been studying these trends for four years.”

This issue is all around us, even in Cobb County, where they are also dealing with rising homelessness. Recently, Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce announced that the county would be funding a homeless camp through next year’s budget. The “camp” would offer food, temporary housing, and medical help for people who would be allowed to stay for 90 days as they attempt to get back on their feet.

Nationally speaking, there are much worse places, such as Seattle and San Francisco. It’s important to note Seattle, as it is the headquarters to Amazon. In case you live under a rock and have not heard, Georgia government officials have been falling over themselves with tax incentives and unprecedented breaks to be the home of the second Amazon headquarters. Amazon says it will bring 50,000 high-tech jobs and spend $5 billion on construction with the second headquarters. Dubbed ‘HQ2’, it will be the equal to its original Seattle home. Those will be high paying jobs and these new workers need a place to live. We are literally out of homes on nearly every scale but especially on the low end.

“With homes priced under 250K there is only about two to three weeks of inventory on the market,” said Kirsten Ricci, a Roswell resident and a Berkshire Hathaway Agent who specializes in residential real estate in the north metro Atlanta area. “For example, as we speak there are only two homes for sale in the Roswell, Alpharetta areas under 200K and both need work. There are only 50 homes (under 200K) for sale in the whole northern arc… we just do not have product available.”

As our elected leaders and many others continually stress that everyone goes to college and everyone gets a high paying job, life is in fact much more complicated. This is compounded by the fact that elected leaders are largely unwilling to tackle the problem or in some instances even refuse to recognize the issue. Roswell has made some strides in redeveloping the Groveway district near City Hall but these are slow moving projects and there is practically no appetite for any large construction, much less for affordable apartments or housing. As long as the economy is adding jobs and people continue to move into the area at high numbers, the situation will only worsen and with all of this, remember that Atlanta is a real contender for Amazon. I say to all Georgia leaders to be careful what you ask for. Seattle is not the place you want as a model for your cities.
To put it in real terms, I spoke to a local restaurant worker who I will identify as Susan, because she did not want to use her real name.

“I live in Sandy Springs and have one child.” Susan said. “I take the bus to both of my jobs in Roswell. I leave for work nearly two hours early to take my child to daycare when it’s open. If I miss a bus, especially on weekends, I could be as much as an hour late for work. Between both jobs, I put in over 55 hours per week and I would say I spend an additional 10 to 12 hours riding the bus. I don’t know how long this can last… I really hope to have just one job that is closer to home but my rent has increased this year and other prices just keep going up. I feel like I’m just on a treadmill with no end.”


AUG. 26 2pm to 4pm
Roswell Square Park
$6 for individuals or $25 for families up to five.