Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless (HFTH) has helped the hungry and homeless in Atlanta for more than 40 years, but this year, the nonprofit organization has uncovered a new phenomenon.
“Many women are living in cars with their children,” said Elisabeth Omilami, chief executive officer at Hosea Feed the Hungry, a Christian international aid organization, which was founded by civil rights activist Hosea Williams and his wife, Juanita.
“Because Atlanta has a small number of shelters that will take boys over 14 or they separate them and put them in a shelter with men, rather than separate their families or stay in shelters which are perceived as dangerous, they just stay in their cars,” Omilami said.
This year’s annual Christmas Dinner will be held from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Georgia World Congress Center on International Boulevard in Atlanta.
But like its other events throughout the year, HFTH provides more than just a hot meal. They will have access to showers, hair stylists, toiletries and other necessities.
“Just like Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day, Christmas, they will see a doctor each day to get their vital signs checked. They will get their hair done; they will get new clothing. They can enroll their children in the national ID program. The children will get toys and their school supplies for the year, or the semester at least. They can meet with lawyers for emergency legal aid and see a case manager or counselor.
“We encourage them strongly to follow up and come to the office and become members. We stay with you all year long,” Omilami said.
HFTH expects to serve more than 10,000 working families and individuals in need over the holiday season.
Since its founding in 1971, Hosea Feed The Hungry and Homeless Food (HFTH), a Christian international aid organization, distributed more than $3.0 billion in food, clothing, medical, educational, toiletries, furniture and cleaning supplies to 16 Georgia counties, three states and to the Philippines, the Ivory Coast and Uganda.
The goal, Omilami said, is to help the homeless become self-reliant and to get the public to realize the homeless represent a much broader group of Americans than the stereotypes would have us believe.
According to HFTH, 1 in 50 American children are homeless and 40 to 60 percent of the homeless are working.
“That’s one of the misnomers of homelessness, that they are not employed,” Omilami said. “Here in Atlanta, affordable housing has become just nonexistent for working families.”
She said the homeless usually fall into one of three categories: the chronically homeless who have mental health issues and are not getting help; transitory homeless who are almost ready for work and need a hand up, and the working poor who are one paycheck away from being homeless but don’t qualify for benefits because their income is just one step above the threshold for assistance.
The need for assistance is increasing, Omilami said, but resources are down because of the recession and the impending “fiscal cliff.”
Federal Hope VI funding, intended meant to revitalize the worst public housing projects in the United States into mixed-income developments, were used to tear down public housing in Atlanta but was not replaced and that the homeless have largely been forced into extended stay hotels, which have a limit on how long a family can stay. As a result, children often bounce from school district to school district during the year as their families are forced from an extended stay hotel in one community to another.
“It was very detrimental for people in the city who were living in public housing,” Omilami said.
Hosea Feed the Hungry has had to cut its budget as federal funds have been reduced and donations to the organization fell 28 percent this year, Omilami said.
One program particularly hard hit paid rent for the first three to six months for unemployed clients while they looked for work and got back on their feet. HFTH also helps clients find entry level work, usually in the hospitality industry. Omilami said she expects to meet with the United Way soon to see if HFTH can get assistance to keep the program running.
People wishing to help can text 4HOSEA to 20222 to donate $10, which will be added to your phone bill. This is enough to feed three families or make a larger donation by visiting Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless or become a member and make a monthly donation. Eighty percent of every dollar goes directly into programming.
Omilami also encourages people, especially those in the Atlanta area, to become volunteers.
“Volunteers are critical to our success,” she said. “Our programs are so robust we couldn’t possibly pay a full staff.”