Empowering the hungry and homeless for the long term

Intown Collaborative Ministries programs by the numbers:

Heading Home

  • Helped 21 homeless men and women find income and permanent housing
  • 11 moved into permanent or transitional housing
  • 17 found full- or part-time work
  • 3 received veteran/disability benefits
  • 5 returned to school
  • 82 percent remain in housing for 6 months or longer

Food Pantry

  • 4,552 visits by 331 low-income men, women, and children
  • Served food for 43,944 meals
  • Distributed 52,733 pounds of food, up 50 percent in 2012
  • Averaged 85 households served per week, up 31 percent
  • Served 293 more homeless people per week

Food Co-ops

  • Empowered 53 very low-income members in two local high-rises
  • Launched second food co-op
  • Distributed 31,844 pounds of food
  • Increased membership by 33 percent
  • Introduced farmer's market option, giving members 11 pounds of produce a month

Clothing Closet

  • Renovated a boutique-like urban clothing "shop"
  • Served guests from 6 partner ministries/agencies
  • Serve 15-20 guests per week

Arts & Eats: A Fundraiser to Benefit Homeless and Hungry Families and Children. 4 p.m.-7 p.m. May 5. $100. The Miller-Ward Alumni House, Emory University, 815 Houston Mill Road Atlanta, GA 30322. www.intowncm.org.

For years, if he could find a place, George Talley made his bed in a boarding house or rented one for a week or month at a time.

After serving three years as a medical specialist in the jungles of Vietnam, it was hardly the way he’d imagined his life, but the recession happened.

Talley moved to Atlanta in 2005 and found work, but four years later he got a pink slip.

“I started doing day labor but it was never enough to keep a roof over my head,” he said. “There was always the threat of not having a place to live.”

By 2010, Talley, 59, said he was homeless, moving from one shelter to the next.

Then one day the Army veteran happened upon Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, one of 16 metro Atlanta faith organizations partnering with Intown Collaborative Ministries to assist the hungry and homeless, men and women like Talley.

That single moment, he said, changed his life.

Talley’s story is one of many the partners will celebrate May 5 when the group hosts Arts and Eats, a fundraiser at Emory University’s Miller-Ward Alumni House to benefit homeless and hungry families and children. They also hope the event will raise awareness about homelessness and put to rest some of the misconceptions surrounding it.

“There is an understandable but false perception in the media and the public that homeless people are all chronically homeless, the often unbathed ‘street people’ one sees,” said Brad Schweers, executive director of the nonprofit collaborative. “Statistically, only 13 percent of homeless people are chronic and most are very, very hardworking.”

But to afford the average apartment in Atlanta, Schweers said, a person working at minimum wage - $7.35 an hour - would have to work 78 hours each week, 44 percent greater than the national average.

Poverty and a lack of affordable housing, he said, are the leading causes of homelessness.

Schweers said the reality is that most people who are homeless are not the more visible and memorable “street” people. They are like Talley, veterans or what experts call the newly homeless, people who can’t make ends meet because of high unemployment, poor wages and high housing costs.

“Homelessness is not homogeneous,” Schweers said. “We’ve provided assistance to a former restaurant owner, folk who have master’s degrees, people from all walks of life.”

And they provide that assistance in some of metro Atlanta’s wealthiest zip codes, places like Druid Hills, Virginia Highlands and Morningside, neighborhoods not known for homelessness or hunger.

Schweers said Talley is part of Intown’s Heading Home program, a long-term effort focused on helping homeless people get off the streets and into permanent housing. Talley is one of more than 20 homeless men and women Intown Collaborative helped last year move from the streets to stable housing.

When its caseworkers began working with him, Talley said he was skeptical at first, figuring the red tape would be too much to overcome.

Within weeks of applying for disability and to a supplemental housing assistance program veterans, Talley, who has Type II diabetes and hypertension, said he was awarded disability benefits and enough money to get a used car.

“I didn’t even know I qualified for any benefits,” he said.

In June, he moved into his new home, a swanky apartment complex near Mercer University.

“He’s a great example of what can happen when you get to know people’s stories,” Schweers said. “Finding appropriate housing is our end goal but this isn’t a cookie-cutter program. We try to get to know each person, find out what their situation is and explore their options.

“George moved in here in June. Typically once that happens, contact with the assisting agency is done, but for up to 24 months we check in to make sure people don’t slip back into homelessness.”

In addition to helping him get disability and veteran’s benefits, Talley said the ICM caseworker helped him find his new apartment. His church, Morningside Presbyterian, donated furniture.

“She wound up being a blessing,” Talley said of the caseworker. “She doesn’t look like she can do things but she gets things done. She’s a bulldog.”