Every day at 5:00 a.m. the alarm goes off. Paul and his family get up and crowd into their bathroom to brush their teeth and do their hair, and then begin the search for clean clothes before they rush out the door. The bus stop isn’t a far walk, it’s just down the parking lot and up the hill from their room. Paul is joined by other kids as they wait for the school bus. He doesn’t know them though; the names and faces change often.

Once Paul gets to school, he can finally eat breakfast. He enjoys school because it offers him a chance to be ‘normal’, even if it’s only for a little while. He gets to hang out with his friends and enjoy all the new things he’s being taught, he just wishes that he wasn’t so tired all the time. At lunch, the day begins to turn. While Paul’s friends talk about their new video games and shoes, he just silently nods along thinking about the second-hand sneakers from a clothing closet he’s wearing.

Once the school day is over, Paul returns to his room to find his mom reviewing the help wanted section of the newspaper. She was terminated because she called in too often to take Paul’s sister to multiple doctors’ appointments for asthma. Paul walked in and completed his assigned chores and then his homework, which is becoming more difficult without a computer or a desk.

After a light dinner, it’s time for bed. Paul brushes his teeth, puts on his pajamas and climbs into bed with his mom and two younger siblings. He prays that tonight the couple in the room above them don’t start fighting again so that he can get some sleep and do it all over again.

Sadly, this is an all too common a day in the life of a child whose family is suffering from homelessness in Gwinnett County. Our lack of shelters has driven too many families into local extended stay hotels and motels. These families believe that any roof is better than no roof and that it will only be for a few weeks until they’re back on their feet and able to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward. However, most extended stays cost as much, if not more, than some of the apartments in Gwinnett, which inhibits the ability of the family to save and get themselves into stable housing.

This system is not sustainable; it’s not healthy. Our answer is HomeFirst Gwinnett, a comprehensive solution that focuses on advancing our entire homeless system. Solutions that provide families like Paul’s with access to services and options so that he and the more than 1,000 other kids who are identified as homeless in Gwinnett County Public Schools can have a brighter future.

As you carry out your year-end giving plans, please consider investing in HomeFirst Gwinnett. Paul and families just like his need you.  We need champions like you, ordinary citizens who want to lend a helping hand to make our children and families whole again.

There are many different initiatives within United Way of Greater Atlanta to combat homelessness, help families, feed the hungry and provide hope and stability for people in need.

While Kids Home Initiative helps with all of these things, there’s a difference. Children become the focus behind finding a solution.

“In this program, the kid is the starting point. They are the reference point,” said Amy Barrow, director of the Kids Home Initiative.  “We start with housing, and we get referrals from Homelessness Liaisons at the school or a social worker about a family that is in a crisis. We also get in contact with apartment complexes, and we have good relationships with the office managers that know that community well.”

Kids Home is a comprehensive solution helping children avoid or escape homelessness by assisting children and families have secure and successful futures. They do it by helping kids stay in school.

“The overarching mission is to keep kids in their school of origin,” Barrow says.

By keeping kids in their own school regardless of their living situations, Kids Home can provide the child with at least one point of stability even though the rest of their life may be in flux.

And then, Kids Home can start to help parents by providing stable housing.

“We try to get them stably housed,” Barrow said. “It’s not crisis intervention. We’re not able to help someone if they have zero income, but we’re trying to stabilize them. Sometimes, it’s about helping with the extra move-in costs, turning on utilities or helping with a deposit.”

Miquael Williams moved to Atlanta from Daytona Beach, Florida with a pair of children. His marriage ended after the move, and this left him as the sole guardian. Unfortunately, things went south quickly.

His family moved from place-to-place and house-to-house. Williams’ car broke down, and this cost him his employment. He struggled to pay his rent, and he was later robbed at gunpoint at his apartment complex.

Williams needed help, and that’s where Kids Home came in. United Way connected him to partner organizations that helped him with receiving housing services.

“None of the places stood us up on our feet like United Way did,” Miquael says.

 

For more information or to sponsor Kids Home Initiative, contact Amy Barrow at abarrow@unitedwayatlanta.org.