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Georgia city taking measures to avoid housing sign-up chaos

By the CNN Wire Staff
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30,000 people crowd for housing help
  • NEW: Acceptance of housing applications distributed Wednesday going smoothly
  • Officials and police accepting filled-out applications via drive-by lines in the streets
  • Only 10,000 people were expected, but 30,000 showed up Wednesday
  • 62 people required medical attention, including 20 who were hospitalized

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Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- The small city of East Point, Georgia, took steps to prevent chaos from breaking out Thursday, a day after more than 30,000 people unexpectedly turned out to pick up public housing applications.

East Point, a suburb south of Atlanta, had expected only 10,000 people to show up Wednesday. But officials said crowd control became an issue after many families brought more than one member -- children, other relatives and even dogs in some cases, according to Kimberly Lemish, executive director of the East Point Housing Authority.

Thursday, people returned the filled-out applications for housing assistance. And officials used a different procedure in the hope of keeping order. Housing authority officials and police were accepting forms as applicants drove by. Those not in cars could walk up to tables where officials accepted the forms.

A steady stream of cars and some foot traffic was evident, but not the craziness of Wednesday, when the applications were distributed.

Video: A shot at housing

"As soon as the doors were opened panic ensued," the East Point Fire Department said in a news release.

Maj. Donald Chase of the East Point Police Department said the event was organized with several distribution centers, but people Wednesday tried to circumvent the lines and come around the sides to gain access.

"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. "However, the Police and Fire were in control. This is evidenced by the fact that no arrests were made."

Lemish said that, with the cooperation of East Point and nearby police departments, the housing authority did everything it could. "It was a success," she said. "We were able to do what we were set out to do. All of the people who wanted applications got them."

However, officials said so many people picked up applications that it could be 10 years before all the applicants are helped. Meanwhile, their names will be on a waiting list.

"There's no way to anticipate when we can assist families," Lemish said. "When we have assistance available, we will select someone from the waiting list."

As many as 62 people required medical attention Wednesday, including 20 who were hospitalized as a result of the crowds, the hot weather and the failure of some to take their usual medications, the fire department said.

More than 30 officers were deployed to the site to gain control of the surging crowds. People from all over the country were in the lines, hoping to get the applications.

And people had waited for hours, even days, in line for the applications. Candice Dixon -- who has three children and is 37 weeks pregnant -- said she had been in line since Monday.

"It was horrifying, just chaotic, to be someone who waited patiently in line, and then all those people coming; I was scared for my life," she said. "I didn't leave; I slept out there in a lawn chair with a pillow. Then I washed up at Kroger, and went back and camped out some more."

Dixon said she has gotten a job and hopes the program will help her get a home she can afford.

CNN's Josh Levs and Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.