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300 join run to help fight homelessness

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Kyle Boykin (308), Robby Barter (309), Kelly Arsenault (612) and Kenyrik Alexis (604) lead the pack of runners around the lake at Tribble Mill Park during the Salvation Army's Homeless Run on Saturday. Home Sweet Home Gwinnett is the Salvation Army's emergency housing program reaching out to homeless families throughout the county to provide rapid re-housing.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Kyle Boykin (308), Robby Barter (309), Kelly Arsenault (612) and Kenyrik Alexis (604) lead the pack of runners around the lake at Tribble Mill Park during the Salvation Army's Homeless Run on Saturday. Home Sweet Home Gwinnett is the Salvation Army's emergency housing program reaching out to homeless families throughout the county to provide rapid re-housing.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Nearly 300 people took steps Saturday to fight homelessness in Gwinnett County.

The second annual Run for Shelter, sponsored by Fairview Presbyterian Church, raised money for The Salvation Army Gwinnett's Home Sweet Home program, which provides homeless families with professional social services to address their immediate survival needs and resolve any long-term barriers to their economic stability.

"The economy's just bad, and it's hit folks ... who had good jobs and lost them," said Debbie Wengrow, a licensed social worker and director of the Home Sweet Home program. "We want to be that hand of Christ and reach out and serve them."

A study conducted in January 2008 showed 80 percent of Gwinnett's homeless population were members of families, and of those, 70 percent were children.

Many of the families served through the Home Sweet Home program have exhausted "every little bit of hotel assistance and come to us just desperate," Wengrow said.

Through the program, families are placed in furnished apartments and provided with three to six months of paid assistance to help them get back on their feet, Wengrow said. The program also provides counseling and training.

Home Sweet Home is funded through donations, and the Run for Shelter race is the only event that raises money to support the program, said Captain Bobby Westmoreland, commanding officer of The Salvation Army Lawrenceville Corps.

"This (race) is an example of how the churches can organize the community and solve community problems," Westmoreland said.

Rob Sparks, the pastor of Fairview Presbyterian Church, said it's the responsibility of the church to mitigate social injustices.

"This is what we're called to do," he said.

The race was organized by Fairview Presbyterian Church member Janet Russell, who was named Presbyterian Citizen of the Year by the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta earlier this year.

Members of Mosaic Christian Fellowship, a church in Suwanee, also attended the event Saturday at Tribble Mill Park, serving as runners as well as volunteers, said Vanessa Reed, who is married to the church's pastor.

"We've committed as a church to reach out to the community," she said. "I think that (homelessness) is a cause that's not spoken about in Gwinnett County, and I thought that (raising money for the Home Sweet Home program) was a great cause.

"We're a small church but we want to make a big impact on the community."

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