Gwinnett plans second homeless shelter as existing one remains closed

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Gwinnett County is finalizing a grant agreement to create a second homeless shelter while grappling with the prolonged closure of its only current shelter, which has been shuttered since a Christmas flood.

The Resting Spot housed women and families with children near Norcross, inside The Nett Church, which flooded as pipes burst all over metro Atlanta during a December freeze.

The shelter has a maximum capacity of 20 people: eight beds for women in one room, and two other rooms that each hold families of up to six people. No one was there Christmas weekend when it flooded, said Protip Biswas, vice president of homelessness for the United Way of Greater Atlanta.

“That was the lucky break we got — lucky, in a sense,” Biswas said.

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HomeFirst Gwinnett, a county-subsidized initiative of the United Way, runs the shelter and a separate assessment center on the premises that connects people with resources. Both spaces were flooded but the assessment center has been operating remotely, Biswas said.

The assessment center has helped more than 800 people since the flood, mainly through referrals to other services for assistance with food, clothes or rental payments, he said.

The shelter served almost 50 households last year, Biswas said. HomeFirst began giving out vouchers instead last month to two families per week for 30-day hotel stays, a model the organization would like to continue for smaller families, he said.

Four shelter employees were laid off and two moved into other positions within the United Way, Biswas said. HomeFirst still plans to reopen the shelter and will fill those positions again, he said.

The church since Christmas has been coordinating with its insurance company and contractors for repairs. Biswas said the United Way is supposed to be able to access the building by the end of this month. The United Way is insured for damage to its furnishings, which will have to be repaired or replaced before HomeFirst’s spaces can reopen, he said.

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners gave $500,000 to HomeFirst for this year, a $100,000 cut from last year. The United Way requested less money because less staff time was needed to administer federal rental assistance, which expired last year, said Chad Parker, agency spokesman. The organization also requested less for diversion services, such as the motel vouchers, because it planned to rely more on partner agencies and raise money from other sources, Parker said.

The United Way has not employed an executive director for HomeFirst since Matt Elder left last year to head up the county’s new housing and community development division. Rorie Scurlock, the United Way of Greater Atlanta’s associate vice president of homelessness, is managing the HomeFirst initiative.

Gwinnett County has allocated more than $500,000 in federal COVID-19 response funding for Impact 46, a Lawrenceville-based nonprofit, to renovate a 10-unit apartment building into a non-congregate shelter for men and couples without children.

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The shelter will be called the For Initial Response and Supportive Transition (FIRST) Center, said Jen Young, executive director of Impact 46. It will be located in the former Colonial Hill complex, which the city of Lawrenceville bought last year.

One of the apartments will become office space for the Lawrenceville Police Department’s co-responder unit, which partners police with behavioral health specialists from View Point Health. The police department received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for equipment and staffing at the shelter, city spokeswoman Melissa Hardegree said.

There is no timeline yet for the FIRST Center’s opening, Young said.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people in Gwinnett are homeless or precariously housed, including those who couch-surf, Elder said.

“We only have one true solution to end homelessness in the county and that’s through affordable housing,” he said.