Sunday Conversation with … Stan Dawson

Homeless shelter aims to get people off the street

For the past 40 years, men (and increasingly women and children) who don’t have a place to call home have come to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Midtown for what likely will be their only meal of the day. Today, the soup kitchen serves some 250 people daily, six days a week. But what started as the simple act of providing food has evolved into Crossroads Community Ministries, with the mission to end homelessness, or at least, make a dent. Today, Crossroads helps its “guests,” as its clients are called, with everything from housing to health care, public assistance to mail delivery. “While we still provide that hot meal, it is the hook,” said Stan Dawson, Crossroads’ executive director. “Our real mission is to get people off the street as quickly as possible.”

Q: Why do you refer to the people you serve as guests?

A: I have often asked myself, “Would I ever want to be referred to as homeless?” I absolutely would not. The perception of a person who is homeless is not in any way positive. All of our 300-plus volunteers are indoctrinated with the concept that we are no better than those we serve. In so many ways, those we serve understand the real meaning of life equally, or often times better, than we do.

Q: How so?

A: You realize how giving those who are materially poor are. They have a sense of humility, a sense of community and a willingness to share what little bit they have. It is inspirational.

Q: The soup kitchen is a great service. Why expand?

A: In 1996, some incredible volunteers said, “In the name of God, can’t we do more for people than hand them a sandwich?” Particularly since the volunteers were seeing the same people week after week, month after month, year after year.

Q: Can you talk about some of your other services?

A: One of the most significant services we offer is helping our guests get their original birth certificate. About 50 percent of the 3,901 people who came here last year did not have one, which you must have to get a state ID in Georgia. I don’t care if you have a master’s degree, no legitimate employer is going to employ you unless you can prove you are who you say you are.

Q: How important is it to have a place to get mail?

A: None of the people we see has a mailing address so we have a volunteer run mailroom. Our guests can get their food stamp card, their birth certificate from Montana, maybe a letter from the only family member they communicate with in Detroit, Michigan. An address is a real lifeline for someone who is homeless.

Q: Do a lot of people dismiss people who are homeless as lost causes?

A: I speak to those audiences on a weekly basis. Homelessness is a very complicated issue. My typical response to those of us in the faith community is, “We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful.” Having said that, we need to be very careful about how resources are used.

Q: Do your guests ever get off the streets?

A: Absolutely. We have a new program in which we have placed 200 women with children in safe, affordable apartments. We work with the women two or three months before we place them, and they have to be employed. When we began our program for chronically homeless men with disabilities, we decided to serve only 10 people at a time because of the amount of energy and management involved. These aren’t quick fixes. You are embarking on a journey, not a vacation stop.

The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at