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Putting homeless families on path to success

Nonprofit helps families escape cycle of poverty



ROSWELL, Ga. – HomeStretch, the Roswell-based nonprofit, knows why people say the organization gives them the ability to thrive.

It simply means this self-help program not only takes families out of financial freefall and homelessness, it gives them the social tools and skills they need to change their lives.

“What HomeStretch does is guide working yet homeless families with minor children in north Metro Atlanta to reach increased self-reliance and stability they might not otherwise achieve,” said HomeStretch Executive Director Rose Burton.

“It does this with a proven track record of providing what we call LifeSkills education, mentoring and temporary supportive housing. We call it tools for life.”

When a successful HomeStretch family leaves the program 18 months to 24 months later, the parents will have four things they didn’t have before:

• Stable finances

• Stable employment

• Stable families

• Stable housing

The first thing HomeStretch does after accepting a homeless family – most are single-parent – is to put them in a safe place – an apartment of their own, fully furnished and with transportation for the children to go to school.

Next, parents are introduced to their mentors, usually two volunteers who will lead them down a thorough and proven road to employment and financial stability.

It is a tough-love project that the mentors exact, but everything is done with a purpose.

“We provide them shelter and financial respite. But that does not mean these families are on holiday,” Burton said. “What it means is they will have a roof over their heads and all of the support we can bring to bear while they get out of debt – many are homeless because they have been evicted.”

One typical client is Peggy Hughes, a single mom raising a teenage boy when her mother died. They were evicted from her apartment. She had been working as a paraprofessional with DeKalb County Schools for 11 years.

“You only have to fall behind a little bit, and then you’re late with the rent and you are evicted,” Hughes said.

She was fortunate, a friend took them in. It was a temporary arrangement, but it was long enough for Hughes to learn about HomeStretch.

The program has 39 housing units in Roswell, with 22 on Millbrook Circle off Norcross Street.

Once aboard, she was immersed in the HomeStretch method. Its real focus is to put parents into the workforce or on a career track, Burton said.

“One of the great things about HomeStretch is our clients get to meet other clients in the program and hear where they started from and where they are today,” Burton said.

HomeStretch Board Chairman Kurt Hilbert said HomeStretch works.

“We see to it that they get the mentoring and counseling they need to learn how to budget and manage their money – many had never been shown that,” Hilbert said. “And our mentors and counselors are tough.”

Hughes said she can attest to that. She had always continued to work, but then she was able to get better jobs, finally she landed a job at Georgia Tech. Now she makes more money than she ever had, plus benefits.

She and Khalik, now 19, (he is a welder) share an apartment. Her dream to buy a home is now within reach, Hughes said.

The biggest thing the mentors did, she said, was to teach her to budget and save.

“I would fight them on that. I earn my money, it’s mine. But they would not budge,” Hughes said.

Ultimately, what Hughes got was her “own space.”

“I was in a devastating situation with a son and no place to go,” she said. “But if you work hard enough and smart enough – there are no quick solutions – you can do things you never thought you could,” she said.

Hilbert, a Roswell attorney, said HomeStretch has taught him plenty also.

“Teaching people LifeSkills, how to budget – how to get what you want out of life, really – that is what we do here,” Hilbert said.

His goal is to create permanent office space to house the LifeSkills courses and expand the programs to more families.

“You shouldn’t wait until people hit rock-bottom before giving them the tools to stand on their own,” he said. “There are too many homeless children in this state.”

Next year HomeStretch will celebrate its 25th year in Roswell. Hilbert and Burton agree this is a program that could help families all across north metro Atlanta.

“And we will,” Hilbert said.

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