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CLINE: Taking a step for homeless

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

Runners will be raising their heartbeats during Saturday's Run For Shelter 5K run and one-mile fun walk. Organizers from the Fairview Presbyterian Church hope they raise awareness as well.

It's the second year for the event, held at Tribble Mill Park, that raises money to combat Gwinnett County's homeless problem. Proceeds from Saturday's run go to Gwinnett Home Sweet Home, an emergency housing program of The Salvation Army that helps homeless families in Gwinnett.

The inaugural event raised $5,000, and this year the church hopes to double that amount. In a county where the problem isn't always in plain view, Farview Presbyterian Pastor Rob Sparks said getting the word out is as important as the money raised.

"My grand hope is (the event) grows beyond our church," Sparks said. "My hope is it raises awareness. I'd love for it to grow into something including other churches and (other groups)."

The need for raising awareness, Sparks said, comes from the fact that Gwinnett's homeless problem is not as visible as, say, Atlanta, where the pastor has ministered in the past.

"I don't think people see (the problem) here," Sparks said. "You go to downtown Atlanta and you see guys panhandling and sleeping under (overpasses) -- it's visible and you can tell it's an issue."

Janet Russell, a member of Sparks' congregation, spearheaded the event and is a tireless advocate for Gwinnett's homeless population.

"Once a person becomes homeless, it's almost impossible to get off the street," Russell said. "Searching for work requires an address to leave with a potential employer. In addition, everyone needs a place to shower and dress besides being sheltered from the elements."

Sparks said the Salvation Army told him that last year's donation helped take one family off the streets. "It was the perfect Christmas gift for this family," he said. And on Saturday, his congregation looks to build on that effort.

Last year, 250 runners turned out for the race, which starts with a fun run at 9 a.m. followed by the 5K at 9:30. Registration begins at 7:30 and more info can be obtained at www.runforshelter.org.

The event's motto is "fighting homelessness one step at a time." On Saturday, Fairview Presbyterian and the race participants will continue moving forward in their fight.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.