Amber Burns had spent much of her adult life on the run – living out of her car, sleeping on a friend’s couch, fleeing from domestic abuse and the demons of addiction.
But after a decade of this, she’d had enough. Burns got help from an Atlanta-based in-house drug treatment program. Then, instead of returning to homelessness, a nonprofit agency provided the housing and other support she needed to turn her life around.
Through CaringWorks, Burns received subsidized rent for an apartment, plus furniture and other services like counseling, job training and courses on finances and building credit.
The 38-year-old single mother and her two young daughters are in a stable home now. No more bouncing around from place to place. Her oldest daughter, Emberly, 7, started second grade at the same school she attended last year.
Burns has a CaringWorks counselor who helps her set reachable goals. She works part-time as a personal assistant and takes classes at Georgia State University. Her interests are in the earth sciences and she dreams of being a naturalist and teaching in a state or national park.
“We have a safe, warm, loving home here now,” Burns said. Throughout her years of homelessness, she had hoped to one day reach this milestone.
“I knew I needed help to get there,” she said, “and people are willing to help, to reach out and bring you out of this.”
The unwritten mission for CaringWorks, said CEO Carol Collard, is “whenever you need help, help should be there – and however many times you need help, help should be there.”
“What I’m delighted by is when (Burns) was ready to do this very hard work, there were resources available to her,” Collard said.
In the past two decades, the agency has helped more than 10,000 people in its quest to end homelessness in metro Atlanta.
At present, 77 women like Burns receive subsidized housing and other resources. Collard said these are all single moms and heads of their households who have battled substance use. The program has a high success rate, she said, because housing gives them a chance to restart their lives and reunite with their children – then they fight hard to stay together.
In addition to housing, the agency helps with job placement. Training, résumé building, and interviewing skills focus on employment that offers a livable wage so they can remain housed.
And more importantly, CaringWorks offers hope.
“Believing you deserve another chance in life is half the battle,” Collard said. “It may not be the second chance, it may be the fifth chance, but whatever you need individually to get where you want to go is what we want to provide.”
Burns had plenty of people tell her that she would never break the cycle of substance abuse and homelessness. She has remained clean and housed since 2017.
“It took a lot of fight and a lot of strength, but it was so worth it,” she said. “Nobody has to live and feel that way – scared and alone.
“Homelessness and addiction wear you down emotionally, mentally and physically.”
It can also affect children throughout their lives. Being homeless makes it hard for kids to attend school regularly and be attentive in class.
Youth without a high school diploma are 4 1/2 times more likely to experience homelessness later in life, perpetuating the cycle of homelessness, according to a study by the SchoolHouse Connection and the University of Michigan Poverty Solutions.
Their research shows that 31,161 Georgia students in PreK-12th grade were homeless during the 2021-22 school year. And chronic absenteeism among homeless students was 44.4%, compared to 21.8% for all students.
Thanks to CaringWorks, Burns said Emberly is thriving at school, and the younger one, 2-year-old Amelia, attends childcare while she works. They’ve become friends with another family in the community, and their children have play dates.
There is a relief in “not having to worry about having to change schools, and knowing tomorrow we’re not going to wake up and have to leave home because it’s become unsafe,” she said.
It’s everything she has always wanted for herself and her children.
When Burns was a new mom, she celebrated her first Mother’s Day by writing Emberly a letter promising her the world.
“I promised I would always be here for her, take the best care of her and provide a safe, loving home,” she said. “Shortly after giving birth, the place we were living at became unsafe, and we found ourselves homeless again.
“At that time, I really felt like I was not doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Burns continued. “I’m supposed to be the strong mom who provides the warm, loving home and stability, and I didn’t feel like I could do that.
“But with CaringWorks and the support they give, I’m now able to fulfill everything in that letter.”
The mission of CaringWorks is to reduce homelessness and empower the marginalized by providing access to housing and services. Ninety-five percent of clients remain in stable housing after a year of being helped. More information: caringworksinc.networkforgood.com.