Courage in the face of hunger, fear of sleeping in your car and the very thought of possibly placing your children in an insecure situation is not something most people think about on a daily basis, but for too many, it is a reality. Homelessness is not defined by any one word. It is complex and can take place for any socioeconomic status in the blink of a pink slip. With a society living paycheck to paycheck, regardless of income, homelessness is a state that can occur within a very short amount of time. Courage in the face of fear is a start. Finding help is the next step. The Salvation Army’s Home Sweet Home program is a compassionate place to start.
It takes a certain amount of courage to tell your story to the world. For Erin Arrington, telling her story means that maybe one more single mom, who thinks she is out of options, will ask for the help that is available from the Salvation Army’s Home Sweet Home Program. “I had a part-time job,” says Ms. Arrington. “It wasn’t enough to pay for our mortgage.” As a translator for the Boys and Girls Club, Ms. Arrington has a fulfilling job that she feels certain is giving her the skills and opportunity to increase her work hours. Furthering her education to meet her family’s needs is just as important to her as setting a good example for her children. “I want them to see that you have to be financially stable and make a good living,” she says. “I don’t want them to have to go through what I went through.
Ms. Arrington and several women she has met through the program take a financial class each Wednesday and support one another by studying and getting their children together at a local park. “These women are so strong,” says Arrington. “Getting together has taught us that we are not alone in our situation; it can happen to anyone, at any time.”
Captain Andy Miller of the Lawrenceville Salvation Army agrees. “A financial crisis can happen at any time,” says Miller. “People don’t often reach out until they are at their lowest point.” Captain Miller says that housing needs can range from a couple of nights to several months by the Home Sweet Home program. “We have emergency and transitional programs that help keep families where they need to be.” Where they need to be is within their own community and with some hard work, they can often remain in their own neighborhood or school district. “A child with a safe place to sleep is very important,” says Miller. “Human trafficking and child abuse can occur anywhere, but depending on others to house your children leaves them vulnerable.”
Lawrenceville Elementary School counselor, Yolanda Arnold, is especially aware of the effect that homelessness and hunger have on a child. “Every school district aims to be successful, but unfortunately there are some obstacles that get in the way that are beyond the district's control,” says Arnold. “Transient students are an example of one of those obstacles.” She goes on to explain that financial hardship and homelessness factor into having a negative impact on attendance and performance. As a supporting staff member, Ms. Arnold assures each family that all administrators and classroom teachers do the best they can to help students adjust to their new school environment and prepare them for academic success. “It is equally important that schools and communities work together to provide resources for these students and their families.”
Captain Miller agrees with Ms. Arnold in that communities and schools must work together to create a stable economy for the area. Without stable housing and children who feel safe in their own beds, fear begins to create situations that are not good for anyone living in the area. The fear that was once a part of a mother’s constant thoughts has now subsided and created a safe and secure living arrangement for her children. “I wasn’t sure what to do next,” says Ms. Arrington. “But the people at Salvation Army helped me plan for a better future.” The future includes working the two-year Home Sweet Home program, following the advice she has been given, applying sound financial strategies and learning to lean on her new friends. “I pray about everything with my friends and with the people at Salvation Army,” says Ms. Arrington. “I have been at my lowest point and now I am not afraid…you know, stuff happens to people in all situations, no one could imagine what it is like to be at this kind of loss…but you don’t have to go it alone.”
Not “going it alone” is a primary concept that Captain Miller would like to convey to anyone struggling with housing and a potential homeless situation. “Our program seeks to end homelessness for Gwinnett County and reduce the risk of human trafficking,” says Captain Miller. “Even if a family is initially fully supported by us, the chances of them returning as fully functioning members of the local society is far greater if they do not find themselves homeless.” The idea that a child has a safe place to call “home” gives them a sense of “ownership” in the community. Stakeholders in the community are more likely to add to a stable economy. Children, who represent the future of the county, are the most valuable stakeholders of all. Giving them a chance to identify a place as “home” helps to secure their future and the future of their community.
Captain Miller wears many hats at the Salvation Army building on Sugarloaf Parkway. He pastors, counsels and prays for his community. He must also wear the hat of fundraising. “The money we raise stays in our community,” says Miller. “From the bell-ringers at Christmas to people who have benefitted from Home Sweet Home returning to ‘pay it forward’, we have a variety of fundraising programs.” The reality of fundraising is ever present and most essential to the success of Home Sweet Home in Gwinnett County. Captain Miller explained that for each dollar raised locally, the potential opportunity for matching donations by private, state and federal agencies goes up. In other words, his job is to stretch every dollar collected and manage the money with the best strategies for making it go the farthest for the community. “This money stays here and further stabilizes our county,” says Miller. “It makes Gwinnett County an even better place to live for everyone when there is a safe place to lay your head and call Home Sweet Home.”
Home Sweet Home Client Services… • Immediate shelter in an apartment supplied with basic necessities • Hot meals, non-perishable food, grocery vouchers • Bus coupons, gas cards, van transportation • Emergency clothing & toiletry kits • Professional assistance with plans to enable families to overcome barriers to economic self-sufficiency • Job skills, financial education, life skills and mentoring programs • Scholarships to The Salvation Army Camps, Music & Performing Arts Conservatory, after school care and a variety of other programs
For more information visit http://www.salvationarmy-georgia.org/