No longer homeless in Atlanta

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This post is the 10th in our series of telling the stories behind the scenes of the work that Atlanta Mission is doing to end homelessness. We’re choosing this post to take a step back and look at what we’ve seen, heard, learned, and shared during these last 3 months, and bring to the forefront some of the trends and themes we see in the restored lives of the individuals who enter the doors of Atlanta Mission’s various facilities around town. We’ve only told ten of the hundreds upon hundreds of stories of lives redeemed, restored, renewed, and restarted through the work of this charity. There are many, many more stories to tell.

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Our decisions create our future. In every one of these stories, we’ve seen one or 100 decisions that lead to a life of homelessness or addiction. As Stephen Covey famously said, “we are not a product of our circumstances, but of our decisions.” Sometimes we can control our circumstances, but most times we cannot. What we can control is our reaction and response to the stuff that life throws at us. It is in those decisions that our futures are made. Whether we actively decide to simply check out, like Joe did, or decide to reject and move away from our upbringing like Veronica, we have the power to decide how we respond to the world around us.

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It’s hard to change…really hard. Once a decision is made to change our trajectory, that’s when it gets really hard, because it’s much easier to return to our comfort zone, regardless of how horrible that zone might be. When we adopt a certain lifestyle and settle into it, that becomes our normal, or barometer, our true north. When things go sideways, we tend to return to what our “normal.” Joe lived with his brother for a while to try and change his life, but when it got hard, he returned to his version of normal: living under the bridge on Buford Highway.

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But for the grace of God go you and I.  Why or how could someone who remembers “growing up rich” end up as a crack-addicted homeless woman with children? How does that happen? When Debi’s Dad died, she was crushed. How would you (or have you) react to such a devastating loss? Some people turn to work, others to alcohol, others to God, and some to drugs. Each one of these is an active, life-changing decision that we each must make in the face of disaster, tragedy, and other things that fall under the umbrella of pain. What is causing pain in your life? How will you respond?

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Men, women, and children. It’s easy to put a label or a face on “homelessness” in and around Atlanta. The man standing at the end of the exit ramp with the sign. The woman pushing the grocery cart in Piedmont Park. It’s also far too easy to forget that those people are someone’s daughter, son, brother, sister…mother or father. The situation of being homeless for a man or a woman does not occur in a vacuum. When someone is homeless and they have children, there are more lives at stake, and more futures and family trees at stake. It’s one thing to react to our circumstances and decide to live under a bridge or make decisions that result in being homeless, but it’s very much another thing altogether to be born or raised homeless. The question, “where do you live?” takes on a whole new meaning.

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Family. Could you turn to your family if everything in your life went south? If your answer is yes, consider yourself blessed. But what if you have to answer “no”? Where do you turn when your decisions have led you to a place of desolation, loneliness, homelessness, addiction, or abuse? As I met and visited and spent time with the men and ladies who are currently living at or used to live at one of the Atlanta Mission’s campuses, it’s clear that most of them would have to answer “no” to that question. Today, they claim each other as family. The people who walked beside them during their transition from homeless and addicted to where they are now are their family. They’ve learned that “family” isn’t always blood related. Who is your family?

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Community. I work in the high tech sector, and spend a lot of time at the various coworking and incubator facilities here in Atlanta, all of which are heavily populated with individuals from the millennial generation. The word “community” may be overused in these areas, but there’s something to that. Millennials crave community, and work hard to achieve it and participate in it. Why? Because nobody likes to face life alone, and everyone needs someone to talk to, to vent, to have an emotional outlet for what they’re going through or facing. Atlanta Mission provides this much needed aspect of life to people who have been facing life alone, and often have never spoken about the hell they’ve been through. This new community provides a safe, strong foundation for healing and change.

A friend. Within that community, friendships are built, accountability is created, and lives begin to change. They share more than one bond of living in a world decimated by big and small decisions, deciding to work towards a different direction for their lives, and the joy of knowing first hand how God can use people in their lives to restore their lives.

Close to home. We walk and drive and ride by everything you’ve just read every day in Atlanta.  All these stories occurred right here in our back yard. These are real people with real lives, real families, and now real jobs and futures.

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Anyone can help. When I’m listening to, and frantically writing down notes from these amazing stories, I am always shocked at who comes through in the biggest point of inflection: Tonya’s second husband, the pastor and his wife or the Dekalb police officer, the volunteer art teacher, the sister or God himself, or someone who has been there and done that. It’s amazing the impact that anyone can have on the life of another human being just by being there.

A decision to change. In every one of these stories of lives restored from near ruin, it was the individual’s decision to stop living that life and change, followed immediately by God’s amazing provision to bring them along the path towards healing and restoration. Why would Emory Hospital admit a homeless alcoholic and treat him free of charge for weeks? Why would anyone put a salad bar in a homeless shelter? Why would it matter what the name of a women’s shelter is? Why would the first four words that a homeless woman hears from a day shelter matter? Why would someone you’ve never met offer to take you away, change your life, and never ask for anything in return? Why would an elderly man deliver groceries to the front porch of a crack house? Why would a judge sentence a chronic DUI offender to…nothing?

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Why does it matter whether you serve food on dinner plates or cafeteria trays in a homeless shelter? Only God knows. Tomorrow night, I’ll be attending the graduation ceremony for the women whose lives have been restored after being accepted into My Sister’s House. I fully expect to be shocked and amazed at the incredible renewal that we will hear about, just as I was at the graduation ceremony at The Shepherd’s Inn a few months ago.  

I thank each of you who have read and shared these stories and encouraged me to keep telling them. Everyone has a story that someone else needs to hear. Whose story will you tell?

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