This summer, eight new transitional houses for homeless families will open in Augusta because of a grant that not only provides for housing, but also childcare, financial management, job training and other tools to help families live independently.
Action Ministries, a Georgia-based nonprofit that operates in Augusta, Atlanta, Athens, Gainesville and Rome, received a grant totalling nearly $385,000. About $309,000 of the total will be spent in Richmond County to turn eight single-family homes into transitional houses and provide programs for the families that live there.
The grant is part of nearly $201 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to support 731 local homeless programs across the country.
The new homes will make Action Ministries one of the largest providers of transitional housing services in Augusta, said Jannan Thomas, the executive director of Action Ministries Housing.
Action Ministries currently operates 45 transitional housing units in 19 counties across Georgia. As eight more units are added in Augusta this year, five others will open in rural communities across the state.
“We were especially excited about expanding in Augusta,” Thomas said. “As the second-largest city in Georgia, the need was big. Our waiting list was long. There are always more folks who want to get in than we can provide for.”
Every time a new home opens around the state, there’s a flood of phone calls, faxes and e-mails about availability, Thomas said.
Every month, a group of nearly 40 nonprofits gather for Augusta-Richmond Continuum of Care meetings aimed at addressing root problems of homelessness, said Rick Herring, the executive director of Action Ministries Augusta.
“The central issue almost always is housing when we get together every month,” he said. “It is such a basic need.”
Applicants for the new homes must have children under the age of 18, pass a drug test, and be looking for employment.
“Our ultimate goal is self-sufficiency,” Thomas said. “We want to get a sense from the family about their goals, including moving into permanent housing, but also education, health issues, financial management, whatever else they want to address while in the program.”
Once employed, families put 20 percent of their income toward housing costs, and another 10 percent into a savings account to use after graduating from the program. Families can stay for up to two years.
Action Ministries hopes to have families moved into the new houses by July 1.
Churches or organizations are needed to sponsor each house and help with the transition, Thomas said. While some furniture will be provided through Action Ministries’ furniture bank, churches “serve as cheerleaders, moving crews, and whatever else a house needs,” she said. “When we open a house there’s nothing in the kitchen. There are no pots and pans. The cabinets are empty.”
Some churches are already at work preparing the homes for tenants. Volunteers have come to paint, install new floors and mow the grass so that Action Ministries can not only offer housing, but a “warm” reception, Herring said.
“I’m so thankful that this prayer has been answered,” he said.