Building Hope and a Future: The campaign to house those facing homelessness in Atlanta
11Alive is a proud partner of a new initiative to help fight homelessness in Atlanta with a new shelter for at-risk women and children.
Author: Shiba Russell, WXIA Staff
Published: 10:48 AM EDT September 20, 2019
Updated: 9:45 AM EST January 2, 2020
COMMUNITY 7 Articles

ATLANTA — The homeless crisis is one of the most critical issues facing America. While numbers are ticking down in Atlanta, there are still thousands of families living on the streets.

11Alive is proud to partner with and support Atlanta Mission, Brock Built Homes, Atlanta Housing Authority and Underpriced Furniture, who are all working together with donors like you to make a difference in metro Atlanta. 

Here's how you can help! Starting Sept. 23, if you donate for a chance to win a $400,000 home, you'll be helping to transform the landscape of homeless care for the more than 4,000 women and children who sought shelter with Atlanta Mission last year.

The money raised will go toward building the proposed Ethel Street Shelter on Atlanta's west side, designed specifically for women and children experiencing homelessness. It will provide critical day services for over 4,500 individuals and create 100 new shelter beds for those most in need.

This is the Building Hope and a Future campaign.


Building Hope and a Future: The campaign to house those facing homelessness in Atlanta

Chapter 1

Angela Forez

Mom who found a joyful new beginning

Angela Forez can now breathe easy outside her own apartment in northeast Atlanta, playing with her son Legend. 

A year ago this month, she couldn’t pay her condo rent of nearly a thousand dollars a month.

"The job, the money wasn’t coming in faster than the bills needed to come out," she explained to 11Alive Anchor Shiba Russell.

One day, after months of struggling to meet payments, she said "my landlord told me I only had 24 hours to leave."

She cleared the apartment and squeezed what she could into her son's stroller.

It was now all she had.

"Everything else I threw away," she said.

With no car, and no nearby open shelter beds, she started walking, pushing baby Legend in his stroller six-and-a-half miles to the Grady Bridge in downtown Atlanta.

"I wrapped my son up and I stayed up that entire night waiting for that next day," she said.

Legend Angela Forez Building Hope Homelessness Atlanta
Angela Forez

The following morning, she walked another three miles to Atlanta Mission's Ethel Street day shelter on the west side. 

She had been told to get in line early to possibly secure a bed at its overnight homeless shelter. She said she was shocked by how many others she saw in the same situation.

"You know how sometimes you feel like you’re the only one, but then you find out you’re not," she said. "That was the shock experience that I received."

Fortunately, the 264-bed facility had room for Angela and Legend.

It was amazing that she got in, when you consider the growing need - 4,000 women and children sought shelter with Atlanta Mission last year. Only about 900 beds are available in the city.  

Angela saw that need firsthand.

"I've seen these women who have carried themselves on the street - with these mental health issues, with no help, with these drug abuse and drug addictions and no help," she said. "It’s not that they didn’t want to (find help), it’s just that they weren't equipped to do it."

"Now they will be." 

Chapter 2

Jeff Foxworthy

Helping his hometown

Jeff Foxworthy is known for his irreverent view on his own upbringing; blue collar comedy and "you might be a redneck" jokes have been his calling card in almost four decades as a comedian.

But his involvement with Atlanta Mission got started out of a sincere wish to alleviate a serious issue in his hometown.

"I grew up down by the airport, Hapeville, College Park and so, being a little economically the underdog," he said. "I’ve always had a heart for the underdog. So about 10 or 11 years ago, I got involved with Atlanta Mission because people just don’t end up on the street."

Today, Sept. 23, is the official kickoff day for the Building Hope and a Future campaign. It's a partnership between 11Alive, Atlanta Mission and other businesses and organizations to help bring 100 new shelter beds to Atlanta.

Foxworthy said he's been struck by the scope of homelessness in the community, and the great need to tackle it.

"It’s amazing to me, there’s 4,000 women and children on the streets of Atlanta experiencing homelessness," he said. "And they’re not all young. Some of these women are 75 years old, there’s somebody’s grandmother - and each night in Atlanta there is about 900 beds available, and Atlanta mission is about a third of those."

"So what we’re trying to do is trying to build a new shelter down at Ethel Street so we can add 100 beds, which will then take us to servicing about 40 percent of the women and children that are facing homelessness," he added.

11Alive and our partners are working to raise money to get that shelter built through the Building Hope and a Future campaign. If you donate to the fund, you'll be entering for a chance to win a new home in the Brock Built West Highlands neighborhood, valued at $400,000.

And the more you give, the better your chances of winning - and the greater an impact you'll make for those facing homelessness in Atlanta.

"We are all walking through this life together, so when you become aware of something and with someone besides you see falls down, you either help them up or you pretend it didn’t happen," Foxworthy said. "And once I see it, I can’t pretend it didn’t happen."

The link where you can donate is now live here

Chapter 3

In the News

Discussions about the campaign

Myra Sky talked about the campaign on Atlanta & Company:

11Alive General Manager John Deushane talks about the great benefits when companies put a focus on community service:

Morning Rush anchor Shiba Russell and 104.7 The Fish's Beth Bacall talked about the campaign on Atlanta & Company.

Learn more about the sweepstakes:

The bitter cold that sets as the seasons turn means a red alert for Atlanta Mission:

A December 19th update:

December 23rd update:

Chapter 4

Kennesaw State Homelessness Awareness Week challenges students to face issue head-on

Student homelessness is a growing national crisis - college kids who should be focused on learning, instead worried out their next meal and finding a stable place to live

Kennesaw State University is zeroing in on the problem this week, during its 12th annual Homelessness Awareness Week, which runs through Saturday

Events so far have included a food drive and affordable housing design competition, with a vigil for the Cobb County homeless community, to honor those who have died in the last year, set for Thursday night.

The week will culminate with a "Sleep Out Challenge" on Friday that challenges students to face the issue in a more personal way, sleeping in their cars, outside in a tent or in a simulated Red Cross shelter.

"It's just one night, but they get a peak at how hard it is for any homeless person, as well as one of their fellow students who may be sleeping in their car," an organizer said.

The week is organized by Kennesaw State's Campus Awareness, Resource and Empowerment (CARE) Services program, which serves students experiencing homelessness, food insecurity or foster care.

Chapter 5

From homeless to one of the youngest Subway franchise owners in Atlanta

One man's journey

Meet Chris Williams. 

At 27, he’s one of the youngest Subway franchise owners in metro Atlanta.

"The best part of being your own boss is that you get to eat your own cookies whenever you want to," he joked. 

Williams grew up in Chicago, but in 2017, he was hoping for something better.

"When I left ... my goal was to pursue a better life," he said. "I was tired of the gang violence, the poverty, the drugs."

Williams took a leap of faith - to Phoenix for finance school, but he dropped out and landed a job in Miami. He didn’t, however, have the means to land on his feet.

"I had to sleep in the car, and I expected it to be maybe a couple weeks, maybe a couple pay periods, and it ended up turning into three months," he recounted. 

He was homeless and suffering in silence, but he held onto a dream of making his life better.

"I was telling everybody I was staying in an Airbnb, and I wasn’t. I did not tell my family until like the last month of it. I wanted to figure it out," he explained. "I didn’t want to go back home, and I didn’t want to go back until I figured it out."

He found a way to make it work, relying on a Planet Fitness for a hot shower, a place to store clothes and get dressed on the way to work.

"I owe planet fitness an apology," he said with a laugh. 

Williams said he got a job in Atlanta and set his eyes on never experiencing homelessness again, so he spent nearly a year learning about owning his own restaurant franchise - and saving.

"I understand the potential and the power of owning your own store, and the impact it can make your community," he said.

And while making sandwiches, he’s making history.

"I’m the youngest Subway franchise owner in Atlanta," he said. You can grab a bite to eat at his location at East Cobb Subway store on 3165 Johnson Ferry Rd., Marietta, GA.

And he has a message for other young adults. 

"I would say don’t give up. Don’t quit and never take no for an answer," he encouraged.

In a statement to 11Alive, Subway called Williams' story inspiring.

"As a 27-year-old Subway franchise owner, Chris Williams’ story as a young entrepreneur is inspiring to many, and we are happy to have him as a member of the Subway family.”

Chapter 6

A talk with Atlanta Mission's president

Giving hope

It's no secret our city has far more people facing homelessness than beds to keep them warm at night.

For a long time, Atlanta's largest provider of homelessness services saw people trickle out of the shelter system. However, recently there's been a huge shift. More and more people are finding a way to get back on their feet all thanks to one man's vision. 

That visionary is Atlanta Mission CEO and President Jim Reese.

Reese leads bible study at the men's shelter every Tuesday. His breathe hope into the countless number of men facing homelessness. 

"I don’t think I could do my job without these Bible studies," Reese told 11Alive's Morning Rush anchor Shiba Russell. 

He's been leading Atlanta Mission for 11 years. The organization is a faith-based nonprofit and the city's oldest and largest homeless services provider. 

In 2018, Atlanta Mission served nearly 7,000 men, women, and children. Reese said it's an exchange of hope on both ends. 

"They give me hope and I then hope that we give them hope," Reese expressed. 

Reese calls his shift from corporate America to nonprofit work "God's assignment" on his life. He left the corporate world during the recession and accepted a job to lead the inner-city ministry. Now, he uses his 35 years of management experience to craft a blueprint for permanent change. 

"Our teams have built a whole model that deals with individualized services [and] focuses on five areas: how they are doing physically, how they are doing emotionally, and how are they doing spiritually, how are they doing socially and how are they doing vocationally," Reese explained. 

Atlanta Mission's Transformation Model walks each person experiencing homelessness through four steps: find hope, choose help, make progress and sustain and grow.

In the end, they hope people will grow spiritually, find employment, become rooted in the community, reconnect with family members and so much more.

Reese said he has already seen a dramatic difference and the numbers back it up. 

"I say what I am most proud’s the chance to look to see the number of people who come out of a traditional shelter. Before I came, it was less than one percent. We’re seeing 20 to 30 to 40 percent of the people that come out of our shelter...choose help and make progress," Reese stated. 

Reese said his team spent the last four years strategically rolling out customized services at all four of the Atlanta Mission facilities. Now, they're all excited to see how the transformation model will be executed in a soon-to-be built-homeless shelter for women and children. 

"I’m proud that we’re building a shelter in the middle of one of the fastest-growing areas in Atlanta and we’re not saying no...we’re saying yes. And we’re saying yes because these people matter, and we love them and we care about them...and we’re going to provide hope," Reese said.

The new shelter is specially designed for Atlanta Mission's new model.

Chapter 7

Jill Pable

Designing a safe space

If you've never lost your home, you may not even think about it - how to turn a new, temporary place of housing into a space of calm.

A woman who's been consulting on how to do just that for more than a decade is lending her expertise to our city's largest homeless services provider as it works to build a new shelter for women and children.

"Everything sends a message of experience," says Florida State professor and interior designer Jill Pable. "What we're really trying to do is transcend color, texture and pattern."

Atlanta Mission expects to open its doors to a new homeless shelter for women and children on the west side next year. It would be the city's first low barrier shelter, meaning women suffering from drug abuse, domestic violence issues and mothers with boys over the age of 13 will be welcomed with open arms. 

The 100-bed shelter is being designed to meet their specific needs.

Pable has helped design that vision - incorporating elements as simple as a clean and welcoming waiting room, instead of having to stand in line anxiously hoping to get admitted for the night.

Early renderings of the airport-lounge-inspired waiting room, floor plans, pictures of a bright lobby and multi-colored play areas for big and little kids offer a sneak peak of how specific needs are taken into consideration

Pable says when it comes to designing spaces for people facing trauma and crisis, little things matter - like warm lighting, calming paint colors and clear signage.

"What people need who have experience homelessness is quite often what we want," she added. "We want a sense of privacy. We want a sense of being able to protect our family members and the possessions we have. We want a way to express ourselves. And all of those things are what we share generally."

Pable described some of the subtle details that can help women feel safe and cared for.

"One thing we're including in the space are de-escalation rooms," Pable said. "Rooms nearby where the reception area is - if someone is acting out or having an emotional moment, a staff person can gently take them to that room to let them calm down."

"We're including seating arrangements with what's called 'protected back orientation,' so the seating is against a wall or it's against a place a woman can feel she can defend herself," she added.

Pable is especially excited that there will be no bunk beds, which are hard to get into and out of. She said the women and children will be sleeping in trundle beds, which pull out, and every space will include a privacy drape. 

Groundbreaking for the new shelter is set for this Spring.

11Alive is proud to partner with Atlanta Mission to make a difference in the lives of women and children facing homelessness in our city. By providing a donation this holiday season, you'll help build the shelter mentioned in this story and automatically be entered in the Building Hope and a Future sweepstakes. 

One lucky grand prize winner will receive an amazing home in the Brock Built West Highlands neighborhood valued at $400,000. 

Bookmark this page and check back for more stories on this important topic.