By: Sophie Beal
During my time working for Gateway Center, I have often found it hard to answer the question “What is Gateway?” — It’s tempting to just say that Gateway is a Homeless Shelter… but that doesn’t quite do us justice…
Gateway does so much more than “shelter” folks. We invest in folks. We walk with them. We paint with them. We sing Karaoke with them! There is so much happening every day under our roof that it’s hard to know where to begin. So here’s a list of a 25 AMAZING facts about Gateway that most people don’t know… (I could go on, but nobody wants to read a list of 20,957 things).
1. Gateway’s building was formerly the Atlanta City Jail.
It’s true. When Gateway Center was created in 2005 under the wing of United Way, the city was looking to have a central point of assistance for all people experiencing homelessness in Atlanta. The jail was being rebuilt in a new location, thus leaving the old building vacant. And so the former jail was renovated into a fully functional shelter and recuperation facility with dorms, break-rooms, a clinic, and office spaces for Case Managers and Administrators. We all collaborate together under the same roof—a place that once held people captive, now works to set people free.
2. We have 8 Residential Programs (338 Beds in our building).
Every day is a full house at Gateway. We have 8 Residential Programs—Training and Support, Recuperative Care, Stabilization, Upward, Life Changers, Employment, Pre-Treatment, and Veterans’ programs PLUS our wonderful partner program “Georgia Works!” Having all of these programs under one roof means Gateway has 338 beds in-house, all of which are full every day of the year. As you can imagine, there’s never a dull moment. . .
3. Our Humans of Gateway series is the best thing you’ll read all week.
Ever heard of Humans of New York? If you like interesting stories, inspiration, and learning more about your world and yourself, you’re sure to love our new series: Humans of Gateway. Posted regularly on GWC’s Instagram, the series includes photographic profiles and exerts from interviews with members of the Gateway Community. Each unique perspective sheds light on the issues involved in homelessness and what it takes to fight the stigmas and injustices our homeless brothers and sisters face every day.
4. Laundry machines are available all day on the 1st floor.
Our 1st Floor Client Engagement Center provides a laundry room where any person can clean their clothes at any time. Access to basic hygiene is one of the greatest challenges for those experiencing homelessness—impeding job acquisition, increasing health risks, and lowering self-esteem. Our laundry facilities are just one of many resources we provide for our clients. We also provide showers, bathrooms, and hygiene kits with much-needed toiletry items.
5. We serve both men and women.
There is a common misconception that Gateway Center only serves men. This is not true. While our beds and residential programs are only available to men, adults and children of any age, gender, sexual-orientation can still access Gateway services. These openly available services include shower facilities, the GA Department of Labor, the Department of Family and Children’s services, Hope Atlanta Traveler’s Aid, the Mercy Care Clinic, Clothing Closet, laundry, the Computer Lab, and much more.
6. Our Clothing Closet is Awesome.
Here’s why. GWC’s Clothing Closet is open every week Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11-1:30 pm. Any person can access the clothing closet via the CEC Front Desk and can come once every seven days. Each time, a person can get one shirt, one pair of pants, socks, shoes, underwear, and (during cold months) either a sweater or jacket depending on availability. Plus, our dedicated Clothing Closet Volunteer, Phyllis, works with individuals to get them exactly what they need, be that interview clothes, large sizes, baby clothes and supplies, backpacks/briefcases, blankets, and even reading glasses. We serve an average of 40-50 people per day and we run exclusively off of donations! Awesome, right?
7. Art Therapy is on Wednesdays.
Every Wednesday afternoon our second floor holds Art Therapy—a place for both residential and non-residential clients can work on an art project in a supportive setting to help process their feelings and experiences as they work towards self-sufficiency. At the end of each session, the group shares their work and what it means with each other—forming community and deepening self-understanding. They can use a given prompt, or just do their own thing. All that matters is that they have a safe space to relax and process.
8. SOPO Bike Cooperative helps clients learn skills and earn bikes.
Gateway partners with the SOPO Bicycle Cooperative in Grant Park. They work with our guys to teach them cycle maintenance skills and earn bikes. They’ve even installed bike racks in our dorms! This unprecedented partnership has gotten some well-deserved media attention in ATL’s Creative Loafing.
9. Our guys are expected to apply for at least 30 jobs per week.
Our mission is not just to shelter people from homelessness, but rather to end their homelessness. Not an easy task. As anyone who has searched for jobs in recent years will know, it takes hard work and dedication just to find a sustaining job in the first place. That’s why our guys spend hours in our computer lab working with both their Case Managers and our Computer Lab Coach to strengthen their resumes and apply for at least 30 jobs per week.
10. Clients can apply for and receive Food Stamps at Gateway.
In June 2014, Gateway cut the ribbon of our new DFCS (Division of Family and Children’s Services) office operating in our building! Most homeless people do not have access to adequate nutrition; yet applying for food stamps can be a daunting and difficult task. The application process, interviews, and correspondence take place primarily via phone, internet, and snail-mail—a serious problem for those without a phone, computer, or permanent mailing addresses. The approval process can take months. But today at Gateway, clients can set up an appointment, apply, sit down for an interview, and receive their food stamps within 24 hours! It’s truly revolutionary and we are thrilled.
11. Project Homeless Connect happens once a year.
Every summer, Gateway hosts Project Homeless Connect—a day for service providers from all over Atlanta to come to Gateway, set up an information table, and share their services in one centralized location. People experiencing homelessness can come speak to reps at each table and learn more about what help is available to them that they might never have had a chance to discover. It offers a great opportunity for organizations around the city to connect as well.
12. There is an Interfaith Chapel on our 1st Floor.
Gateway is not a religious organization, but we understand the important role faith plays in the lives of our clients and volunteers. Our Interfaith Chapel is a safe space for anyone to sit, pray, read, talk, meditate, sing . . . you name it. Whatever makes you feel whole.
13. Sometimes we sing Karaoke.
We also paint nails, create art, play board games, and Ping-Pong. We believe that relationship building is essential to ending homelessness. We work to change the lives of our clients, but we also believe that change is possible in the lives of our volunteers through dedicated service and friendships built under our roof. Sometimes changing the world starts with breakin’ it down to The Temptations with a stranger on a Tuesday evening.
14. We have a peer mentoring system called the Resident Assistant Program.
Similar to college RA programs, we have some clients who become role models in their Gateway community. These incredible men are recommended by Case Managers and work with staff to support residents in Gateway programs and walk with them on their journey to self-sufficiency. Many of these gentlemen are hired by Gateway after completing their programs and go on to do amazing things. We are so grateful for their hard work.
15. Hope Atlanta Traveler’s Aid helps clients reconnect with loved ones in other states.
Traveler’s Aid Atlanta has an office on GWC’s 1st floor. Traveler’s Aid works with people experiencing homelessness to reconnect them with family members and loved ones in other states. If reunification is possible, they provide funding for the individual’s travel costs. Turns out, a bus ticket back home is often the fastest way to end a person’s homelessness. Funny how that works.
16. Men in residential programs commit 4 “Caring Hours” every week to Gateway.
They might work in the clothing closet, kitchen, maintenance, or wherever else their skills/talents are most needed. This system is called “Caring Hours.” When clients work together in the building, it reinforces a sense of community and a commitment to that community. Plus, it’s a great way to give back and gain work-related skills.
17. Mercy Care Clinic is open on our 2nd floor Monday-Friday.
Mercy Care Clinic maintains a full doctor’s office on our 2nd floor Monday-Friday. Clients can sign up or make an appointment ahead of time. By providing a Wage Verification Form (attainable through the Department of Labor also located in our building), patients can receive reduced or free medical services, tests, and check-ups in our building.
18. There’s a foot clinic hosted by volunteers bi-weekly.
People experiencing homelessness often spend the majority of the day on their feet, contrary to most stereotypes. Every other Monday November-March, Church of the Common Ground provides a foot clinic for clients. This is a much-needed service often overlooked for which our clients are incredibly grateful. Jesus washed the feet of “the least of these.” Sound familiar?
19. Faces of Homelessness Speaker’s Bureau empowers people to tell their stories.
Gateway’s Faces of Homelessness Speaker’s Bureau works with clients on public speaking skills and empowers them to tell their stories. Members of our Speaker’s Bureau frequently are invited to speak to groups around Atlanta, and often tell their story to groups of volunteers at the Gateway Center.
20. Students help us out A LOT.
The Morehouse Bonner Scholar program works with Gateway and we have several brilliant young men working with us this year supplementing many of our services—helping at the front desk, doing resume workshops and trainings, etc. Emory Med Students also come to Gateway every Wednesday evening, providing invaluable medical care and attention. Whoever started the rumor that Millennials don’t care about anything but selfies was oh so wrong—we’ve seen firsthand (not that we have anything against selfies…).
21. 60-100 volunteers come through GWC every week.
While having 338 men living under our roof at any given time and serving over 500 people every day in our direct service operations, Gateway ALSO works with an average of 60-100 volunteers weekly. Our amazing Volunteer Coordinator Bec Cranford runs our Volunteer Education Program and we simply would not function without her.
22. We offer free TB Testing.
People experiencing homelessness are at far greater risk of contracting Tuberculosis. Gateway Center provides free TB testing on Mondays and Wednesdays and we read the tests on Wednesdays and Fridays. Gateway has worked tirelessly to keep all of our clients safe and healthy during the TB outbreak this year that has affected many members or the homeless community in Atlanta.
23. During the 2014 ice storm, several of our staff stayed for over 48 hours (sleeping on their office floors) to make sure everyone was safe and that Gateway continued to do our job.
Snowpocalypse 2014 *sigh* … Maybe you spent those icey days stuck in your car for hours on I-75, or perhaps cozied up with Netflix on your couch. Whatever the case—several of our staff members braved the weather, came to work, and stayed at Gateway during both snow storms for days at a time while sleeping on mats on their office floors in order to ensure that all members of our community were safe and supported. The ice storm was a terrifying experience for those living in tents and sleeping outside, but we are proud that Gateway led the charge— taking buses with search parties out into the storm to find and rescue people from the dangerously low temperatures.
24. Our 4th floor is devoted to Veterans.
Gateway partners with the VA Department to operate a Veterans program on our 4th floor. Veterans in this program are often recovering from mental illnesses resulting from their time in combat (PTSD, substance abuse, etc.). We are proud to be able to support these men.
25. We have awesome events for the ATL community to show their support, have fun, and learn about the amazing work Gateway Center is doing every day 24/7.
We host two major fundraising events each year—a Spring Concert and our Fall Benefit called Human Clay (fast approaching on Nov. 18)! They’re super fun—full of live music, delicious food, cocktails, silent auctions, fun photo-booths, and the satisfaction of knowing that you are directly contributing to ending homelessness in your community! All proceeds go directly to afore-mentioned Gateway Programs and services. We’d love to see you there 🙂
… or all of the above!