Markesha moved to Atlanta, escaping a Florida neighborhood that had become violent and unsafe for her two children.

But finding an apartment became a challenge—and it wasn’t because of a previous eviction or lack of income, but for something else beyond her control. The single mom took refuge in a motel.

“I had moved from Florida, got a motel expecting to simply apply for housing here in Atlanta,” Markesha says. “I had lived in Atlanta before, and I was determined to simply start over.”

But that didn’t happen. Markesha says every apartment she applied to denied her.

 “I couldn’t understand it because I don’t have any evictions, felonies or things like that,” she says. “I found out that I had two really high unpaid light bills in my name from two different states. I never lived in those states. Someone used my name.”

The unfortunate event led to what she calls an “11-month battle of homelessness.” She says living in the motel was a “horrible” experience. She had to send her eldest daughter to live with her mother and keep her son with her.

“I couldn’t have my family unit together,” she says. “I was trying to escape my old environment but living in the hotel made it feel like I was back in the same environment. Living in a hotel is no place to raise a child.”

There was no space to move around, no stove—and the environment she was trying to escape by moving to Atlanta had crept its way back into her life. She was paying more than $1,000 monthly for a space that was too small and didn’t allow her to be with her family. She started to think about moving back to Florida.

But then Markesha got a flyer from a friend at the motel about a “Motel-to-Home” program through United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Regional Commission on Homelessness.

The Regional Commission on Homelessness and United Way are working to end homelessness and change lives in Greater Atlanta. Motel-to-Home is a three-step process of outreach, housing and aftercare. Housing location specialists work to identify the barriers each family faces and then match them with affordable housing.

Once a family is able to pay their own rent or mortgage without assistance, the family is eligible for ongoing aftercare services, which include financial literacy training, workshops and incentive-based programs.

“Right before that flyer came into my life, I was just about to pack up and move back to Florida,” Markesha says. “I applied to so many apartments and they all said ‘no.’ I was paying $1,050 for a motel room monthly – no space, no real kitchen, no extra room, and my family was still split. Now, I live in a two-bedroom apartment with a full-size living room, dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms for $955.

“I can cry right now. You just don’t realize just how much this place means to me.”

Motel-to-Home is modeled after United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Street-to-Home Initiative, which aims to connect families living in motels to their own permanent housing.

Homeless families and individuals will often live in motels when they may be on the brink of homelessness. There are motels in every county that families use as a last resort. Motel-to-Home intervenes to provide families with case management, assistance with deposits and follow-up care to capitalize on their existing strengths and income.

The program helped Markesha get her family back, she says. He daughter was able to return back home.

“That’s the biggest blessing,” she says. “My husband died a few years ago and that’s how I became a single mom. My husband was my best friend.
“So, to go through this struggle and having to split my family was the hardest thing ever. But living here allowed us to reunite.”

Will you unite with us to do more for families in Greater Atlanta—families like Markesha’s? When we unite, we can change lives. Let’s do more, together.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Tocqueville Society members understand what a significant gift can help accomplish.

Atlanta’s Tocqueville Society, which was formed in 1985, is named after French politician Alexis de Tocqueville, who recognized the importance of voluntary action. Members of Tocqueville Society are philanthropic leaders in the Atlanta area who contribute $10,000 or more annually to United Way of Greater Atlanta.

According to United Way Worldwide’s annual report, Tocqueville Society has generated more than $10 billion to date. There are 25,000-plus members in 400-plus societies around the world.

In Greater Atlanta, Doug Hutcherson is one of those philanthropic leaders. The CEO of Lockton Companies Southeast has always had ties to United Way.

“I’ve contributed to United Way for many years with former employers — even dating back to elementary school,” Hutcherson says. “United Way was always kind of an omnipresent charitable organization, and we were encouraged to donate money.”

Hutcherson has been CEO of Lockton in Atlanta for the past 16 years. He says he created the Lockton business in Atlanta “from scratch” with 12 people, and now the company is 300-plus strong and has grown with revenues of more than $100 million.

Lockton is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, and has always been passionate about service to United Way, Hutcherson says.

“It was a natural extension to Atlanta,” he says. “We carried on that cultural tradition. It was a natural fit.”

But around a decade ago, Hutcherson saw the work United Way of Greater Atlanta does from a different perspective.

Hutcherson had the opportunity to participate in one of United Way’s Street-to-Home outreach projects.

United Way’s Street-to-Home initiative seeks to end homelessness by helping people living on the streets obtain permanent housing and gain access to support programs.

United Way works alongside partner agencies to reach out to homeless communities in Atlanta in hopes of providing them transitional housing, and case management which enables a large majority of individuals to become independent.

The program helps to house hundreds of individuals each year.

During Street-to-Home outreach projects, volunteers will board buses early in the morning and drive around Atlanta to interact with the city’s homeless population. Volunteers such as Hutcherson will ask people if they can help put them in contact with resources.

Hutcherson says he went to United Way of Greater Atlanta early one morning for what he thought would be a discussion about how to provide services that would help the homeless population. It was then that he went into the streets with an ADP escort to directly engage people.

“The reason you go out at 5 o’clock is that you want to get to people before they get on the move,” Hutcherson says. “In those days, you have a group of people walking up to a homeless person on the street, and you can just think what was going through their head — ‘Am I about to be arrested, get beaten up, what’s happening?’

“There was very little trust between the homeless community, but with these outreaches over time, I think that we’ve done a good job of building relationships in this community.”

With these projects, Hutcherson was able to go beyond just giving a monetary gift. In all, he says he’s done about 25 or more of these outreach events, and he took his son out when he was 14 to help instill the importance of service.

This particular project was something that struck a chord with Hutcherson.

He said his office has allocated its United Way Campaign to the program each year since his first experience with Street-to-Home.

Hutcherson now serves on the Tocqueville Society Cabinet. He says he likes serving with other Tocqueville members and sees the group as a good leadership function for the Atlanta business community. He said Tocqueville does a nice job of promoting targeted philanthropy.

“Most Tocqueville Society members are good about sharing within their organizations the importance of philanthropy,” Hutcherson says. “Our company’s three pillars are clients, associates and communities in which we work and live. Giving back to the local community allows for the privilege of prospering in the being the business community.”

Hutcherson says he appreciates the leadership at United Way and called its message — specifically its new Child Well-Being message — an inspiring one.

“I have an inherent trust in United Way,” Hutcherson says. “I think it’s efficiently managed and United Way carries a very powerful brand within the philanthropic world. In Atlanta, I feel like it’s a very well-run organization. I think [President and CEO] Milton [J. Little, Jr.] does a great job, and [Vice President of United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness] Protip Biswas — I’m very impressed with how passionate they are. They believe in the message, which inspires others to act.”

If you are passionate about United Way’s message that all children deserve a chance to reach their full potential, donate to the Child Well-Being Impact Fund. Click here for more information about Tocqueville Society or learn more about how to get involved with United Way’s Street-to-Home initiative and how you can give.

#WhyWednesday: Doug Hutcherson

For Doug Hutcherson, CEO of Lockton Partners, LCC Southeast and member of our Tocqueville Society, he wanted to make an impact in Greater Atlanta beyond writing a check. Today, hear why Doug got involved in our Street-to-Home program to combat homelessness—and to learn more about Doug and Lockton’s commitment to philanthropy, read our interview with him here.

In Greater Atlanta, more than 5,000 people are in shelters or on the street on any given night, most of whom are unable to access the support and services they need to help end their homelessness. Street-to-Home seeks to end homelessness through reunification with friends and families, obtaining permanent housing, and referrals to support programs, which led to stability.