Homeless Population Increases Significantly at Atlanta Airport

When winter arrives, so does the typical onslaught of frigid weather, blustery winds and frozen precipitation. The natural inclination to someone who is homeless is to answer the survival instinct of seeking shelter which is warm and offers reasonable comfort.

Homeless Population Increases Significantly at Atlanta Airport

In the greater Atlanta metropolitan area — where the weather is usually temperate — homeless people will seek out such places as under an overpass or in a narrow alley; but when temperatures recently slipped down into the teens and wind chill readings recorded at below zero in some locations, the typical locations do not offer enough protection from the harsh elements.

One result is that the international airport in Atlanta has experienced a significant increase in the homeless population — and law enforcement officers who patrol the airport have been instructed about a change in how they enforce the law: “They said the city of Atlanta law department has instructed the officers not to do the daily sweeps they once did. That change means they cannot enforce basic trespass laws”, according to this article — which includes a video — written by Morse Diggs of WAGA-TV Fox 5 News in Atlanta in the latest of a series of reports pertaining to the homeless population at the airport. “Police estimate the homeless population has tripled since the change in policy and the end of the count was before the weather turned cold.”

With the increase in population of homeless people also comes an increase in health and safety issues. According to the aforementioned article and video, men have used the floor of the airport as a toilet. For example, “one man who was totally naked defecated and then decided to lounge on airport furniture”; while another man reportedly stood in a puddle of his own urine after relieving himself.

Additionally, some homeless people “have open sores and need to be somewhere else other than the airport.”

Anyone who does not have a boarding pass or gate pass cannot pass through the security checkpoint; but anyone can “set up camp” in either the North Terminal, the South Terminal, or the Atrium which connects the two terminals and is equipped with furniture — as well as surrounded by shops and restaurants — where passengers can relax.

Not a New Problem — and Not Just in Atlanta

Homeless people in an airport terminal is hardly a new problem — nor one which is exclusive to Atlanta.

As one of many examples, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced on Friday, December 18, 2015 that homeless people are no longer allowed to camp out between 11:00 in the evening and 4:00 in the morning without a reason at LaGuardia Airport — according to this article from WCBS-TV Channel 2 News in New York — due to them cleaning themselves and their clothes in full public view; sleeping with plastic bags filled with their belongings; and emitting an “overwhelming” odor.

The United States is certainly not the only country which is faced with this problem. “Homeless advocate Howard Sinclair says there are tribes of itinerant Londoners who call that city’s airport home, and that they’re lured there by shelter, food and anonymity”, according to this article from National Public Radio — which is more popularly known as NPR — from almost ten years ago. “At night — though Heathrow Airport does officially close — Sinclair says there are camps of passengers waiting for flights who take to the floor to rest.”


We are incredibly fortunate to not only have a roof over our heads to keep warm and dry; but we are also able to travel reasonably comfortably in climate-controlled environments aboard airplanes, in hotel rooms, and while driving rental cars.

I personally do not have any issue with people who are down on their luck seeking warmth in an airport terminal — which is typically heated all night long anyway — but why the ones who urinated or defecated on the floor in public areas of the airport in Atlanta did not simply use a public toilet is beyond me. There is no cost nor significant effort involved to do so; and what they did is inexcusable…

…but more importantly is finding answers to resolve the homeless population in general — and doing so with dignity. Some people claim that shelters designed to temporarily house the homeless population are dangerous because they are reportedly infested with lice and bed bugs — as well as nefarious people who would think nothing of using a weapon on someone to steal their belongings.

“The upside-down math is part of Mayor de Blasio’s latest gambit to fix one of his most frustrating dilemmas — homelessness — by increasingly placing families in expensive hotels”, according to this article written by Jillian Jorgensen and Greg B. Smith of the New York Daily News. “And the cost to taxpayers is astronomical at $175 per night. That comes to more than $5,000 a month per room.”

One hotel in question is a Comfort Inn — and the room rate is greater than double the rent of $2,400.00 per month for a condominium located within the same building.

Finland has successfully mitigated the issue of homelessness by giving homeless people permanent housing as soon as they become homeless — which turns out to be more cost-effective instead of muddling along with various services that may eventually result in an offer of accommodation — according to this article written by Juha Kaakinen for The Guardian

…and this article written by Jeff Olivet for The Huffington Post suggests four simple ways to end homelessness — including:

  1. Housing
  2. Services
  3. Social Connectedness
  4. Prevention

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

3 thoughts on “Homeless Population Increases Significantly at Atlanta Airport”

  1. Santastico says:

    You should take a walk in downtown Seattle. Never seen so many homeless people like there. A big shame for such a nice city.

  2. Corbett Kroehler says:

    I concur with every word and commend you for stoking this important debate. Like you, during periods of extreme weather, I gladly would sidestep homeless people camped in the ATL terminal, an airport I use frequently. However, I would insist on basic decorum and failure to use a lavatory when nature calls is obscene.

    To be fair, many homeless people have mental problems (and the failure of state governments to provide for them adequately is an important related debate). Even so, City Hall’s largess in opening the terminal during frigid temperature on the one hand reminds all of us of the importance of basic human dignity but on the other hand, points to the absence of any postulate or axiom in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs related to ignoring basic hygiene.

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