I would like to take a moment and thank everyone for your contributions and for your patience. The development and evolution of an effective and lasting solution takes a lot of time, effort, and money. Thanks to you, we are getting closer and closer to something solid.
I would like to share with you a brief summary of the evolution of this organization and the solution that has emerged.
I began working on this project in late 2015. Having experienced several bouts of homelessness and extended periods of poverty myself, I began to contemplate what a permanent solution to the homeless epidemic might look like. My first iteration was a concept based on the model of eco-villages – A place where people would have shelter and be able to work together to maintain a community. The focus was mostly on growing food and teaching homesteading skills, but, as with every idea I have developed, I took this to the street and talked to people about it and, while they were appreciative and open to the help, a lot of them were simply not all that interested in being farmers. Some were, but others spoke of art or craftsmanship or even teaching.
The people I spoke with have dreams, and those dreams are as diverse as the people themselves. The research I was doing was also suggesting that self efficacy was a huge factor in moving forward and transitioning out of difficult situations. People don’t really want handouts, they want opportunity.
Finally, and this was just a very recent development, a lightbulb went off. I asked myself, what would I want? What would I do if I wanted to improve my situation? And the answer was simple. I would go to school. It got me thinking about college and campus life. It was a place of learning, but also of community, and it was a place where young folks could go off on their own for the first time and feel independent but still have support and access to everything they need in a central location. That, it seemed to me, was the answer. So, I hit the streets again and started asking homeless people how they felt about the idea of a program loosely based around the college campus model. Would they want to have access to education and a warm bed if it meant leaving what they were used to? So far, the answer has been a resounding yes. Even some of the old vets, who are pushing 70, absolutely lit up at the idea of being part of a community where they could put their skills to use. There was only a small sadness that seemed to emerge as each of these conversations tapered off. “It sounds beautiful, but by the time something that amazing is built I might not even be around anymore.” Even Austin, only in his 40s, said that a year or two might be too late for him.
It hurt my heart. It made me want to double down. Not only do I want to make this vision a reality, I want to break ground within three months. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Maybe it is. But as I have shifted my efforts into high gear and really started to ask for the things that I need, I see them coming to me straight away. The possibility of land, the possibility of renowned architects and contractors coming together to build the campus, it’s all very real now.
So, what we are looking at right now is a sprawling 60 acre campus designed after the liberal arts college model. Imagine a central commons similar to a student center where everyone has access to satellite offices of every major service organization in Atlanta (Atlanta harm reduction, AA, IDignity, counseling services, St. Jude’s, etc.). Imagine a community dining hall where residents can come together to cook and eat fresh, nutritious meals. We have volunteers who would gladly cut hair and trim beards. We can give people brand new wardrobes and the items they need to feel at home in their new space.
Just around the outside of the commons, we would have dorm style living accommodations. First year residents would have their own room and share a bathroom with just a few of their neighbors. In the circle just beyond the dorms you will find quad style housing for second-year residents who are ready to care for a little more private living space. The quads have small shared kitchens and shared bathrooms that are more like a home than the dorms.
A short walk to the outside circle of the campus will bring you to the pocket neighborhoods. These are basically inside out cul-de-sacs. Third and fourth year residents occupy their own small but complete homes. Each neighborhood consists of five to eight small homes situated around a common yard with a fire pit, a shared shed with garden tools and everything needed to keep their little space maintained. Residents can choose to stay in these homes as long as they feel they need to be there. When anyone is ready to transition off of the campus, we will help them in every way we can.
I’ve mentioned the access to services and the living situations. What I consider to be the key ingredient of this vision are the enrichment programs. The campuses don’t just look like schools, they are schools. Residents have the ability to study almost anything you can imagine they might want to study. Just like college, we have wood, metal, and auto shops. We have an art department. We have an IT department. We even have a theater department. To the extent that it is possible, residents who are able to contribute their skills and knowledge will have the opportunity to teach as well as learn. We have apprenticeship programs where residents can learn a trade. We aim to provide the right opportunity for everyone.
As residents settle in and begin to achieve competency in their area of study, we will offer work-study programs. Other opportunities for employment would include maintenance, landscaping, and other upkeep of the campus. Residents can work in the commons, or campus administration. Everyone has something to offer and we create opportunities for them to use their unique gifts and abilities. Whatever they choose to do, they will be earning a living. As soon as a resident has an income, they will begin paying rent for their living accommodations. Rent will be 1/3 of their income up to the cutoff value of their residence. Half of the money paid for rent will actually go towards maintenance and upkeep of the campus and each residence, the other half will be put into an interest-bearing savings account with that resident’s name on it. If at any point someone feels ready to transition from the campus and begin a new life out in the world, they get the contents of that savings account to start over with.
Once someone leaves campus, we will stay in contact with them at regular intervals to make sure they’re doing great and to celebrate their progress and offer support if they need it.
This is the beautiful solution. This is what it looks like to really care, not just about doing the very least, but to really look at a person and say, “I see your greatness, let’s work together to develop it.”
My friends, this is a massive undertaking. There is no doubt about it. If you have questions or concerns or comments or ideas, I would love to hear them. Reach out, be a part of this. The only thing I refuse to hear is that it can’t be done. It is already done. It is as real and solid as the earth itself. Right now it lives in my mind, but with your help and the help of some massively talented professionals and bighearted contributors, we’re going to take each brick out of my mind’s eye and build up right here in Atlanta. Thank you for being a part of this. I have so much love for all of you.