Chaos erupted in East Point, Ga., a city southwest of Atlanta, after reportedly 30,000 residents clamored August 11 to pick up federal housing aid applications. The crowd consisted of only a few hundred people on August 9, but by August 11, the crowd had swelled to an estimated 30,000.
“We have a lot of homeless families, a lot of families who are unemployed and it creates a desperate situation, which is what our agency was created to assist with,” Kim Lemish, the executive director of East Point Housing Authority, told NBC 11 in Atlanta.
In addition, the crowd included hopefuls who are not residents of the Atlanta suburb of 42,000 but came from as far away as New York City, Philadelphia and other recession-ravaged cities chasing housing and employment opportunities, local officials told reporters.
Currently, all of East Point’s public housing units are full. The city has also subsidized 400 other residents to use Section 8 vouchers for rent in private housing. The vast majority of the people in the crowd will not be granted public housing, but for residents such as Teresa Cole, the opportunity to be placed on a waiting list was too great to pass up.
“It’s a blessing for those who are going through hard times financially.” Cole told NBC Nightly News. “They’re losing their homes and their income is being shattered so this is really a blessing.”
East Point officials said with so many applicants, it could be 10 years before some people would be able to receive housing.
“There’s no way to anticipate when we can assist families,” Lemish told CNN. “When we have assistance available, we will select someone from the waiting list.”
Despite the sometimes unruly nature of the crowd though, authorities were able to maintain order. No major acts of violence were reported.
“As you can imagine, this large of a crowd did have some instances of ‘being out of control,’” East Point City Councilman Lance Rhodes said in an e-mail to residents, according to CNN. “However, the Police and Fire were in control. This is evidenced by the fact that no arrests were made.”
A day later, the scene was calmer as East Point officials changed their approach to the application process. Housing authority officials and police officers accepted application forms as residents drove by in cars. Those not in cars were able to take their application to one of several tables set up outside.
There were 62 people who required medical attention on August 11, 20 of whom had to be hospitalized. All medical issues reported were heat-related or from other medical conditions.