There is a castle on Peachtree Street, one with big red doors and an iron gate surrounding it. When you walk from the building’s parking lot, red and brown brick columns lead you inside of this church where Crossroads Community Ministry operates. The brick sign reads “Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church.” More important than its exterior is what’s happening on the inside of these brick walls for the less fortunate in Atlanta. Crossroads Ministries is a 40- year-old nonprofit organization, soup kitchen and shelter for the homeless.
Beyond those basics, Crossroads also offers legal help and case management, programs to help individuals apply for Social Security Disability applications, a free mail-room so that people can apply for jobs, a program to provide free Marta cards, housing for the disabled, housing for women and children, rehabilitation programs and hot meals throughout the week.
From 2008 to 2011 there has been a 700 percent increase in the number of homeless people. According to the Crossroads Community Ministry 2011 annual report, there was an increase of 46 percent in ages 62 and over, a 44 percent increase in veterans without a home and a 33 percent increase in homeless children. “About half of the Crossroads staff has been homeless themselves, so they know the issues that people in our programs are facing,” Dawson says.
Homelessness is, unfortunately, a large part of Atlanta’s character. It’s a sad truth that among some of the most influential and financially stable people, there are some of the most forgotten and downtrodden individuals. This Atlanta dynamic may be hard to face, but it’s not impossible to solve. The donors, volunteers, peer counselors and directors of Crossroads in downtown Atlanta know that homelessness doesn’t go away by simply feeding some people, though nourishment is part of the rehabilitation process.
Dawson says, “Thankfully, we have an average of 300 volunteers every year that come and help us. Otherwise, we would not be able to do what we do. Without the volunteers we would absolutely have to close down.” Hiring people who are acutely aware of the issues of homelessness and passionate about changing Atlanta’s fate is “the best decision ever made,” according to Dawson.
Even with the dedicated staff, a large number of volunteers and faithful donors, the growth of homelessness is currently ahead of the increase in donations. To learn more about how you can help, visit www.crossroadsatlanta.org.