“This is Pattie,” Bec Cranford* said to the five or six people there as we entered a room with racks of gently-used clothes from which those without homes could choose new outfits each week. “She is a writer and will be taking photos, but will respect your privacy and not take any that include faces.”
The room fell silent briefly.
“Does anyone want to be a hand model for a couple of minutes?” I finally asked. One man immediately put up his hands, and we moved seamlessly to the rack, where he started slowly flipping through the shirts to my right as I took photos.
I noticed then that another man had joined us and was holding his hands in a posed position on the shirts to my left. I took more photos.
Bec and I then retraced our steps from the previous time I had been here for my initial volunteer orientation. (Here’s the post I wrote after that visit.) I hadn’t taken photos that day and wanted some of the former jail cells that now house U.S. veterans; the career resource center where people can work on resumes and GED preparation; the locker room where those going to classes, job interviews, or wherever daily life takes them can leave their stuff so they don’t “look homeless”; the laundry facilities and medical center, and more.
Short answer? Homelessness has been reduced in Atlanta. Plus, all kinds of daily living services — from teeth cleanings to transit cards, showers to shoes — are accessible to help anyone who needs them. The Gateway Center provides on-site screenings, shelter, and support; and it connects people who are experiencing homelessness to a wide variety of other organizations. New offerings from the Gateway Center are coming as well, such as a low-barrier shelter named Evolution for men, women, and families (at which I may be teaching a bike class for women, by the way). And policy to imbed affordable housing in new developments is a hot topic being increasingly-embraced in our city-at-a-crossroads. These are all stories worth telling, and I’ll continue to tell some of them here on my blog. I’ll also be guest-blogging monthly through August for the Gateway Center on topics that Bec identifies. As always, I trust the journey and that I am put in this place at this time for a reason.
FYI, here are things you can do to help those striving to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring at Gateway Center, or wherever you live:
- Research: Spend a little time with the websites of those doing the heavy lifting. They are filled with many hours of hard work to share the statistics and stories of homelessness in your city. Here is Gateway Center’s excellent website;
- Notice: Pay attention when you ride your bike or otherwise travel around your city to see how your city is addressing not just homelessness but the many risk factors that can lead to homelessness. Change starts from the ground up. Change starts with recognizing the humanity in each of us;
- Volunteer: See what kind of volunteer needs exist in your city and if there is a place for you to make a difference;
- Donate: Donate money. Donate professional services. Donate stuff. Here is a short list of items that Gateway Center needs all the time and never has enough of — large maxi pads, baby diapers, deodorant, razors, lotion (small size)/contact Bec for drop-off details.
Bottom line? You can have a hand in ending homelessness.
*Director of Community Engagement and Volunteer Services at Gateway Center in South Downtown, Atlanta. Gateway Center serves as the “gateway” to a continuum of care that helps individuals move out of homelessness.