Recently, I learned of the impending closing of two shelters/transition centers in Atlanta: Jefferson Place which serves men and Springdale Place which offers support and housing for women and children. Both have been run by Fulton County, and the County has decided it cannot fund them any longer. I am concerned about the people who depend on these two facilities for survival, as well as for all the dedicated employees at those facilities who will lose their livelihoods.
I have been waiting for a public outcry over these closings, but I have heard none. I have been hoping that Atlantans and citizens of Fulton county would rise up and say, "It's not right for people not to have shelter." I have been waiting for leadership on the part of our elected officials and other civic notables that would say, "Our community is too fine a place to leave men, women, and children with no place to come in out of the rain, the cold or the heat. Let's come to the table and address the problem together."
It's not that there aren't any places for people who are homeless to stay. There are some great places and some great programs that offer both hospitality and help in finding a path out of homelessness, but there are not enough. Certainly, there are not enough to handle the growing number of women with children who walk Atlanta's streets every day and, at the end of the day, have no place to rest their heads. At the Midtown church I serve, we see 100′s of people, kids included, every week in our Community Ministry Center. We can and do help in a variety of ways, including offering residential space for women in our Transition Center. All too often, however, there are those heartbreaking occasions when we check with every place in town that takes women and children overnight and discover that there is not an empty bed in town. Not one. To my mind, this is a moral crisis of the highest order.
30 years ago, I met a little boy who spent most nights at the shelter in the downtown church I served at the time. I remember him vividly for two reasons: Every day, he wore a pair of scuffed-up red boots, and every day, he cried a lot. One evening, I happened to be nearby as his mother was getting him ready for bed (actually, getting him ready to sleep on a little cot covered with blue plastic.) When, she pulled the red boots off, I saw that his feet were about as red as his boots and covered with blisters. That's why he cried so much. Walking all over town wearing someone's discarded and ill-fitting shoes can be a painful thing. I am trusting that the red boot boy has become a grown man who lives a much less difficult life than he did when he was young, but all these years later, I have not forgotten the little boy that he was. I see his face in the faces of the children who are homeless in Atlanta today. Let's not pretend they are not there. They are, and they need us now.
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