Home Authors Posts by Kevin Hazzard

Kevin Hazzard

0 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

Unsheltered No More gets homeless vets off the street

Back in 2012, after Atlanta bested thirteen other cities in a contest to house 100 homeless veterans in 100 days, Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the city would do even better in 2013 by helping 800 chronically homeless Atlantans—a significant percentage of whom are veterans—move into permanent homes by the end of the year. As of late September, the Unsheltered No More Initiative was on its way to meeting that goal, with 700 people moved off the street.

Unsheltered is the first step in a more ambitious plan to coordinate Atlanta’s nonprofit and government organizations (which don’t have the smoothest track record of collaborating on this issue) to eliminate chronic and veteran homelessness by 2015. Nightly about 2,400 people sleep on Atlanta’s streets, and another 2,500 stay in shelters.

Nationally, some 62,600 former members of the military are without homes, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, which says that many of these veterans have post­traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse problems. Others have found it particularly difficult to get civilian jobs.

“This is a group that has pledged their lives for us,” says Kristin Wilson, director of the mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, which oversees the Unsheltered project. “There is a desire to support them as they have supported us.”

Established through a $3.3 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Wilson’s group serves as city hall’s liaison to nonprofits and state and federal programs. One of their first projects was eliminating red tape in the VA’s Section 8 housing program. Wilson says they reduced the time it takes to move a qualified veteran into a house from 166 days to ninety-five.

Once in a home, veterans receive what Wilson calls “wrap-around case management.” Delivered by the VA and its partner nonprofits, this can include everything from job training and substance abuse counseling to dealing with disability and medical issues, an approach Wilson says has kept recidivism in the single digits.

Frantz Fortune, executive director of Veterans Empowerment Organization, says he would like to see similar collaboration between the city and nonprofits such as his. “The city is dictating policy,” he says. “They need to get our input.”

Organizations helping Atlanta’s homeless vets

PACE Inc. Provides transitional residences, counseling, and support services, with a focus on veterans.

Unsheltered No More Coordinated through city hall to end chronic homelessness, particularly among veterans.

Veterans Empowerment Organization of Georgia Provides transitional and permanent housing services for homeless veterans on-site in southwest Atlanta, as well as counseling and support services.

This article originally appeared in our November 2013 issue.

Indego

David Carter smiles as he strolls. Though he is followed by a coterie of physical therapists and mechanical engineers, the room is silent except for the soft whirring of his robotic legs.

Carter, twenty-seven, is paralyzed from the mid-back down, the result of a 2010 motorcycle accident. He’s confined to a wheelchair and, by all reasonable estimates, should never walk again. And yet here he is. Walking.

For that, you first can thank Michael Goldfarb, Ph.D., head of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Intelligent Mechatronics. In the nineties, he tested a prototype device to get the paralyzed walking, but it would take more than a decade for the technology to catch up. Finally, in 2007—with the use of microelectronics (such as those found in microcomputers and the iPhone)—scientific concept met technical reality.

Next, thank Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, Goldfarb’s clinical partner. Shepherd, long recognized as a leader in spinal care, was, Goldfarb says, the obvious choice to introduce a human element to his decidedly superhuman process. Together, they brought Goldfarb’s idea to prototype within nine months.

What they developed is Indego, an “exoskeleton” that straps onto a patient’s hips and legs, operating much like a Segway: When your balance point is forward, you walk; when it’s neutral, you sit.

Three years, countless tweaks, and at least a dozen patient tests later, the second generation will be here at year’s end. Smaller, lighter, and easier to use, the newest Indego even has an iPhone app for therapists to monitor and control its settings remotely.

Multisite clinical trials are set to begin next year and will be overseen by Shepherd and Parker Hannifin, the company that bought the rights to manufacture and sell Indego. If all goes well, the FDA will approve the device for institutional use by 2015 and private use by 2016.

If, as Indego’s inventor, Goldfarb is a true believer, then Claire Hartigan is his disciple. A physical therapist, research coordinator, and twenty-three-year Shepherd Center veteran, Hartigan rattles off the health benefits for Indego users, which range from improved bowel function to increased flexibility and decreased muscle spasticity.

But the benefits extend beyond that. There is something fundamentally human about standing on your own two feet, a fact Hartigan seems to understand instinctively. “David has a two-year-old,” she says. “Someday he’ll be able to stand, not sit, with the other fathers and watch his son play baseball.”

In fact, a version of this scene has already played out—after Carter’s first Indego test session, he asked the staff to let him stay in the exoskeleton until his dad arrived at Shepherd. For the first time in three years, the two men stood and looked one another in the eye.

This article originally appeared in our November 2013 issue.

Interview with Cathy Woolard: Atlanta remains ‘ground zero’ for HIV infection in the US

Before she steps down as Interim Executive Director of AID Atlanta, Cathy Woolard is determined to achieve two goals—recruit a CEO with a clear vision for the future, and ensure this Sunday’s AIDS Walk meets its million-dollar fundraising target.

Woolard, former president of the Atlanta City Council, has helmed AID Atlanta for nine months, spending much of that time charting a course through the murky waters of the Affordable Care Act. While the ACA is, itself, a boon for AIDS patients—you can’t be ruled out for a pre-existing condition and there are no maximum expenditures—many questions remain.

“Because the governor hasn’t elected to expand Medicaid, people will fall through the gaps,” Woolard says. “How this will play out over the next year will be interesting to watch.”

The search for a new CEO is already underway and Woolard says she expects her replacement to be in place by year’s end, though if the search takes longer she will stay on. As for the qualifications needed to run the organization in a city she calls “ground zero for HIV infection in America,” Woolard wants someone who understands the medical model of HIV/AIDS treatment, and who has the strategic vision to find and fund health care for those who need it most.

Though AID Atlanta has witnessed vast changes in the treatment, diagnosis, and demographics of HIV/AIDS, Woolard says the most important factor has, stubbornly, remained constant. “The sad truth is the rate of infection has not changed much.”

Woolard and more than 10,000 others will take part this Sunday in AID Atlanta’s twenty-third annual AIDS Walk &5K Run. Registration is still open for both individual participants and teams.

“This money really helps,” Woolard says. “Especially with sequestration and the government shutdown.”

For added incentive, the 5K is an official qualifier for the Peachtree Road Race. So, with cool temperatures in the forecast, runners stand a real chance of posting a low enough time to place in an early grouping and avoid the annual July 4 logjam.

Want to visit the MLK national park site? Dream on.

0

At the national park bearing his name, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd that did not arrive today. There would be no students, no awestruck pilgrims, no laughing children. His voice, and his incomparable “I have a dream” speech, was broadcast from speakers perched above his crypt, which is in the center privately run by his family. King’s words echoed over Auburn Avenue: “Free at last! Free at last!”

When federal lawmakers failed to pass a budget by their self-imposed deadline of midnight yesterday, a government shutdown went into effect, closing federal facilities and suspending non-essential services. Nearly 800,000 government employees, furloughed without pay, were told to stay home. Among the casualties were Georgia’s eleven national parks, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site on Auburn Avenue and the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Cobb County.

As I walked around the NPS-run King visitors center today, the only visible signs of life came from photographers searching for an elusive park ranger who’d disappeared the moment he saw the news trucks arrive. He finally surfaced at another building in the historic site—Fire Station 6, Atlanta’s oldest standing firehouse. He would not comment, but as I stood watching, he hung a sign on the firehouse door declaring the site closed due to the government shutdown.

It was the same at Dr. King’s birthplace further up Auburn Avenue, and at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, both of which are operated by the National Park Service.

As I was leaving David and Deborah Wilson, tourists from northwest England, were just learning the effects of American partisan politics. They had no idea what was happening until I told them. They were stunned.

The Wilson’s U.S. itinerary included what they called “the MLK Loop,” a tour of the South starting in Atlanta and finishing in Memphis—the sites of Dr. King’s birth and death, respectively—before flying north to DC.

Exhibiting that famous British dry humor, Deborah Wilson said, “We’re here for eighteen days. I’ll bet that’s how long this lasts.”

Thirty minutes north, Kennesaw Mountain was packed. Crowds of hikers streamed past a ranger posting red “Do Not Enter” signs at the park’s visitor center lot. Though he declined to give specifics, the ranger said law enforcement staff would remain at the park throughout the closure.

While we spoke, a hiker asked if she was allowed to go in. He told her the park was “officially” closed. She flashed a conspiratorial smile, then disappeared into the lush green hills.

Government can close a park maybe, but not a mountain.

Start your morning off with some patriotism in your mug

After serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, former U.S. Army Captain Rob Swartwood moved to Atlanta in 2009. He went to law school, settled down, and joined the American Legion, envisioning a quiet life as an ex-military man.

But the West Point grad found it hard to be quiet. Swartwood watched as fellow veterans struggled with alienation, depression, debilitating injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder, factors credited with a horrifying spike in suicides. “We’re losing more veterans to their own hand than to armed conflict,” he says, referencing a recent study by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As he thought of ways to assist struggling vets, Swartwood came across Atlanta-based Ranger Coffee, a tiny mail-order business specializing in quality blends. Originally inspired by the high-octane java Army Rangers brewed to stay alert on extended patrols, the company was well-intended—it shipped free bags to troops serving overseas—but struggling. Swartwood saw an opportunity.

In 2011 he bought Ranger Coffee and tested a new model of corporate philanthropy. In the first year, he grew profits by a factor of six and donated every dollar to organizations serving veterans, including the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, the Gary Sinise Foundation, Gallant Few, and Team Red, White & Blue.

He laughingly says he realized this model was “unsustainable.” Now the company commits to donating at least 50 percent of all profits to veterans’ causes.

Swartwood started as a novice, but he’s mastering the java business. “We’re the craft beer of coffee,” he says. “If you want Natty Ice, don’t come to us.”

This article originally appeared in our July 2013 issue.

Exit interview with Darien Long, Atlanta’s (in)famous mall security guard

When I stopped by the other day, downtown Atlanta’s Metro Mall seemed to have fallen into darkness. The power was out—something about a small fire in a fuse box—though nobody seemed to notice, or at least not to care that much. Vendors used flashlights to set up shop, a customer bought jewelry by candlelight. Just another day at Atlanta’s most famous mall (at least by social-media metrics of fame).

But that celebrity is dimming just like the lights. Darien Long, the Metro Mall security guard who gained internet notoriety for videos of his exploits, is gone. On March 21 Long was arrested following a confrontation with a mall patron. Unable to prove he’d previously banned the man from the premises, Long was charged with battery and taken to jail.

The power-outage is a fitting start to the post-Long era, though it’s unclear whether it signals the slate being wiped clean or a return to the mall’s rowdy past. Such is Long’s legacy.

Dubbed the “Kickass Mall Cop,” Long skyrocketed to fame when a video of him using a taser on an irate woman in front of her children went viral, ultimately making headlines in New York, Toronto, and London.

It’s clear from his videos that Long, sporting tactical gear, a taser and a side arm, is in his element. He alternates between good Samaritan and Rambo, one minute protecting tourists, the next confronting groups of angry young men. In nearly all cases he is berated, attacked, or threatened. In many he uses his taser. Occasionally he pulls his gun.

Metro Mall, 73 Peachtree Street S.W., is tiny, barely big enough for its dozen shops and little food court. It slouches toward the Five Points MARTA Station on a block awash in foot traffic, a tide that brings not only customers but trouble.

Vendors are conflicted about Long. They agree the mall has crime problems, though some wonder if he went too far. Still, they refer to him as Officer Long and say, “He was always cool to me.”

Long was let go last week—before his arrest—though exactly why is subject for debate. Scheduled to work through March 31, he was on the job when trouble found him.

On March 24, Long was released from Fulton County Jail. Eager to talk, he called and we spoke for an hour.

He said his goal was to crack down on petty crime and disruptive behavior, things he believes the police lack either the time or interest to pursue. He insists his outspokenness embarrassed APD and City Hall. “They were looking for a way to arrest me.”

In conversation he referenced FX’s The Shield, listed Downtown troublemakers by name, bemoaned his low salary, and expressed a messianic belief in his mission to turn Five Points into a Buckhead-style tourist destination. As for his approach, he was unapologetic.

“You get somebody like me when you want somebody to do something,” he said. “When they turn it up, I turn it up.”

Will trouble return following his departure? He said he thinks so.

So what does a Kickass Mall Cop do without a mall? Fight on. On April 4, Long will appear in court for the March 21 arrest—and also faces charges from an earlier incident. Meanwhile, he’s “flooding the web” with videos, including several he contended show Metro Mall vendors receiving and selling stolen goods.

Will he work security again?

“I’m too hot,” he said. “Nobody will touch me.”

Besides he’d like a girl, which requires money. And security doesn’t pay well.

Follow Us

67,614FansLike
126,739FollowersFollow
493,957FollowersFollow