If a homeless man commits to follow those rules, Georgia Works provides them with room and board, along with treatment options for addictions, help setting up bank accounts and paying court fines and child support they may owe, GED classes if they lack a diploma, and life-skills counseling. Georgia Works relies on donors, but it is also partially funded by the men themselves, who turn over a portion of their paychecks to cover their expenses. The program also forces them to save some money from each paycheck to ensure they have some financial cushion when they graduate, usually after several months.
Their success has meant more opportunities for others: After moving 18 men into self-sufficiency its first year, Georgia Works graduated 55 the second year and 127 the third. It now has space to house 150 men at night, and its cost per participant has fallen from $17,000 to $2,500 in that time. That’s a bargain compared to public costs of serving the homeless or incarcerating them, which can run tens of thousands of dollars a year.
“When I came to Georgia Works last year, I had absolutely nothing,” says Esau Saddler, a June graduate of the program who spoke at the September graduation. “I felt like nothing. I was lost, and I didn’t know where I was.”
Saddler, who now works at the Ritz-Carlton downtown, acknowledges he isn’t a finished product: “There are some things I’m still learning. But the most important thing I’ve learned is to learn from my mistakes.
“I came from the bottom. And I’m not saying I’m at the top. But I’m flowing … and I can progress, and I can grow.”
Likewise, McGahan says Georgia Works has room to improve: arranging more jobs with employers, better-paying jobs (the average graduate earns $11.50 an hour upon moving to full-time work), and training for higher-level work.
But its progress so far, based on the idea a man can rebuild his own life with help and a willingness to work, is impressive.
“We aim to end chronic homelessness in Atlanta, and I think we can,” McGahan said. “I know we can.”