Gateway Center’s lobby was abuzz with activity one rainy February morning in Atlanta. A group of regular volunteers were serving hot food to residents and clients who were accessing walk-in services. One man was eating a bowl of cheesy potatoes in the elevator, and I asked him how it tasted. He gave a big smile, “She’s here every week. She always makes these potatoes spicy, and they’re delicious!”
I was there to meet with Raphael Holloway, who was named the CEO of Gateway Center (GWC) in 2016. When I first talked to Mr. Holloway on the phone, we immediately discovered our common roots in Northwest Ohio. Despite his Midwestern upbringing, Mr. Holloway has been deeply and impactfully involved in Atlanta’s nonprofit space since the late 1990’s.
My tour began in the administrative office, where Mr. Holloway spoke about the genesis of GWC. In 2002, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin requested that community leaders, including Mr. Jack Hardin (Gateway Center Founding Member & Chairman of the Board) and the United Way, create recommendations for the city to better address Atlanta’s homelessness issues. This charge led to the creation of a “Blueprint to End Homelessness in Atlanta”, which included the strategy for what would become Gateway Center. In 2005, GWC opened its doors.
For people experiencing homelessness in Atlanta, GWC serves as a starting point: a “one stop shop”. GWC offers a variety of free programs including a low barrier shelter, a short-term residential program, and transitional housing programs for men. People experiencing homelessness can begin accessing services through GWC’s Client Engagement Center. The Client Engagement Center offers anyone in need access to restrooms, showers, charging stations, phones, clothing closet, laundry, storage lockers, hygiene supplies, and referral services for employment, identification, and entitlement benefits. “We use a wraparound approach, which makes us pretty unique” Mr. Holloway notes.
GWC has an internal partnership with Mercy Care Clinic, which offers medical, dental, and behavioral health services for those in need. Georgia Works also provides job placement services and coaching to help men overcome barriers to self-sufficiency. For men who have been hospitalized and have nowhere else to go, GWC partners with Mercy Care to offer 19 beds for up to 30 days of recuperative care.
Now an independent 501(c)(3) organization, GWC serves as a central point of access for the continuum of care for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in Atlanta. GWC “strives to make homelessness rare, brief, and non- recurring in Metro Atlanta through strategic and innovative programs and services as part of our collective impact model.”
Gateway Center’s five keys to success
GWC’s services and partnerships are designed around five keys to success:
- Family & Community Engagement
- Housing Placement & Stability
- Job Skills Training & Placement
- Health & Wellness
- Financial & Adult Literacy
“If we can focus on those 5 keys to success, then we reduce the chance of a person entering into homelessness again,” Mr. Holloway shared.
During the tour, Mr. Holloway introduced me to Mr. Tommie Simon, a man with a bright smile and a jolly demeanor. At GWC, Tommie serves as the Career Services Specialist and works with clients on job readiness training and computer training. Mr. Holloway took a moment to brag on Tommie, who had recently helped five of the seven men in his job-training class secure employment.
Earlier, Mr. Holloway mentioned that “not having support and networks can be a factor in a lack of individual success.” It was clear that Tommie is a crucial piece of this support network that makes GWC effective for its clients.
Shelter from the cold
When the temperatures dip below 40 degrees, GWC begins their warming center services. “It’s been a bit more challenging with the influx of people seeking shelter,” admits Mr. Holloway about the cold spell that had settled over Atlanta at the end of January. On cold nights, approximately 100 additional people come seeking refuge.
When the temperatures approach freezing, the City of Atlanta ensures that other shelters’ spaces are made available. GWC serves as a central point of access for people to find shelter. “We coordinate with providers and city officials to provide transportation for people in need to different shelter locations and other warming centers,” Holloway explains. These shelters include the Adamsville Rec Center, Atlanta Mission, and Salvation Army, among others. Solomon’s Temple and City of Refuge have beds for women and children experiencing homelessness.
“The challenge is – it’s a choice for people to decide to come inside and seek shelter. That person has to be ready and trust the provider of the service. When the weather is a little milder, many aren’t as quick to choose the shelter option.”
Older people experiencing homelessness
In 2018, about 60% of the 1,200 residential clients that GWC served were over 51 years of age. “A barrier to housing that is often reported to our team is the lack of income,” Mr. Holloway shared about their older residents, many of whom no longer work.
Rental prices in metro Atlanta have been steadily increasing. As shown by the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Housing Brief, high living costs can be a significant challenge for many older residents. The good news is that there are senior housing options available, yet there is still a need for communities to implement policies and systems to improve people’s ability to age within their community.
“Some are able to move into senior properties [after our program], but that is contingent on them having a good rental history, which often they do not.” GWC attempts to identify any barriers and advocate on behalf of their clients. Occasionally, when negative rental history was several years back, clients can get a second chance. “Often the property managers are receptive.”
Mr. Holloway says that retired individuals are encouraged to find volunteer opportunities in the community if they no longer work.
GWC works with Atlanta Parks and Rec to find volunteer opportunities, as well as with external partners like Back on My Feet. Older vets can become trained as peer specialists and volunteer at the Fort McPherson Veterans Affair Campus.
“It’s important for people to become engaged in the community and build networks so that they can have relationships that extend beyond their time at Gateway,” Mr. Holloway said. “We want people to reintegrate into their community, give back, and feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from volunteering.
Next, check out Preventing Homelessness in Atlanta, Part II: Back on My Feet.
If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness or is in danger of experiencing homelessness, call Gateway Center at (404) 215-6600 to be connected with services. You can also call Empowerline at (404) 463-3333 to learn your options.