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CLINE: Local groups prove Gwinnett's homeless no longer hidden

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

I first moved to Gwinnett more than two decades ago, and like others who have been here that long or longer, I've seen a myriad of change in the county. One of those changes for the better is the way the issue of homelessness is handled.

That difference came to mind this past weekend when two organizations were highlighted in the Daily Post on back-to-back days. Though they were two very different events -- the opening of a new apartment building by Rainbow Village in Duluth and the holding of a bed-race fundraiser in Lawrenceville for Family Promise -- both underscored a changed sensibility.

There was a time earlier in my career when the county didn't seem to want to acknowledge the plight of the homeless in Gwinnett. And since a majority of homeless people in Gwinnett aren't what you stereotypically think of (i.e., living in a cardboard box or under a bridge, like you might see in a major metro city) that was easy to do. Many years ago this paper even did its own expose on the issue, titled "The hidden homeless."

With organizations like Rainbow Village and Family Promise, the problem is no longer hidden. And homeless families in the county are no longer alone. They have help, with avenues available to put them on a path back to having their own home. In recent years, with the crumbling economy only adding to the problem, that is no small thing.

Rainbow Village is located in Duluth, and the organization celebrated its newest addition this past Friday -- a $2.2 million apartment building that will help the nonprofit house 10 families. It is the first phase of the project, with plans to build 18 more apartments.

In addition to providing transitional housing, Rainbow Village also holds classes teaching life skills, provides mental health and financial counseling and has after school programs for the children. Clients are allowed to stay in the housing for up to two years as they get back on their feet.

Sondra Blue is living proof that the program works. A graduate of Rainbow Village who now works there, said at the Friday celebration: "It feels so good to be able to tell a woman with her kids ... if I can make it, you can make it."

Said Rainbow Village CEO, the Rev. Nancy Yancey: "It takes a dedicated community of support to break the cycle of homelessness ..."

Gwinnett has become that type of community, and Family Promise is further proof. The interfaith organization specifically serves families in transition and relies on a large volunteer base, including local churches. The average stay in the Family Promise network is 70 days and 85 percent of the families graduate from program with full-time employment and permanent housing. Family Promise also operates The SaltLight Center, an emergency shelter for single women and women with children.

On Saturday, more than $12,000 was raised for Family Promise through the group's annual bed races, which saw competitors race around the Lawrenceville square. It was a fun time, but Sarah Jackson -- a graduate of Family Promise -- reminded everyone that the good times were raising money for a very serious cause. "I am thankful and blessed to have received so much help," Jackson said, before adding that she intended to get her own team together for next year's races.

The term "team" seems a fitting one to use in the fight against homelessness. Both of last week's events are good reminders of the work being done by a large number of people to help the homeless in this area. And the very public celebrations by those organizations are another great example that the issue, though still a problem, is no longer hidden.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.