Life with Gracie: Opening doors for metro Atlanta’s homeless

Roderick Streeter lives with his toddler in an upstairs two-bedroom apartment, still a little uneasy about their future.

In a good week, his job with a local moving company commands barely $200 a week, and there have been weeks when he didn’t work at all.

And so while he is thankful to finally have a place to call home, he can’t help but worry that he and Roderick Jr. could end up shuffling between shelters, soup lines and street benches.

It happened before.

Each year, a staggering 2.5 million children are homeless in the U.S. Of those, 73,953 live in Georgia.

Last year, there were 4,300 homeless people in metro Atlanta.

This is not a new problem. Family and child homelessness as a significant social problem in the United States dates back to the mid-1980s. Since then, the number of homeless families with children has steadily increased, now constituting nearly 40 percent of the overall homeless population.

Fathers like Streeter, however, are often missing from any discussion, but we hear a lot about single moms and rightly so. Although mothers are still the primary parents in the majority of homeless families, the Urban Institute estimates that some 16 percent of homeless families include a dad.

Until a month ago when a woman snapped a photo of him and his little boy in a soup line and posted it on Facebook, Roderick Streeter was one of them.

He became homeless last year for all the usual, complicated reasons. The high cost of child care, no child care, until finally no job.

“I didn’t have a baby sitter,” he said. “I missed so much work, they let me go.”

Unable to pay rent, Streeter lost his home and everything he owned. His parents long dead and young sisters with their own problems, he had no one to turn to for help.

Homeless shelters turned them away. They didn’t accept men with children, he was told.

And so for half a year, Streeter, with his little boy in tow, wandered from soup line to soup line for food and from park bench to hospital bench for rest. Once, he awakened to find someone had taken little Roderick from his arms.

In a panic, he headed to nearby Grady Hospital, and just as he approached the emergency room door, Streeter spotted a stranger carrying his little boy.

He reached and grabbed him and ran.

If you’re shaking your head in wonderment just about now, I understand. Imagine the horror Streeter must have felt.

In December, his luck seemed to change. The woman who snapped that photo and collected his phone number called. She knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who could help.

The six degrees of separation theory that says we’re each six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world was working on the father’s behalf.

The woman reached out to Torreen Cummings, the vice president of business development at CFLane, a real estate company and strong supporter of Open Doors, the collaborative of nonprofits and private real estate companies that works to find permanent housing for the homeless.

“Our goal is to reduce the glut of homelessness in Atlanta,” said Aaron Goldman, one of its co-founders. “There are lots of very good housing efforts in the city, but this is the first one that formalizes a relationship with the private sector — that’s the magic. It’s led to housing on a much efficient and effective scale than anywhere in the country.”

Open Doors, MMM's 2016 Nonprofit Partner, houses the homeless from MMM Law on Vimeo.

Cummings immediately reached out to Open Doors, and by the end of January, the 41-year-old single dad and his son were off the street, at home just off Campbellton Road in Atlanta.

When we last spoke, they were using their connections to help Streeter land a better-paying job.

Since 2012, Open Doors has helped find housing for more than 3,000 individuals and families, who are matched with vocational, financial, mental health and other services to help them toward long-term stability.

Last year alone, the collaborative placed homeless men and women in 606 apartments. They say more landlords willing to help are needed.

People who are aware of Open Doors’ efforts offer the collaborative high praise. Supporters and donors include a who’s who of the local apartment community, as well as law firm Morris Manning and Martin.

“It’s doing amazing work for the homeless within our community,” said Louise Wells, managing partner at MMM. “We are 100 percent committed to helping them reduce homelessness in the Atlanta area.”

Who couldn’t get behind that?

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