On one cold, rainy afternoon a homeless man tried to stay away from the rain in a library in downtown Atlanta for as long as he could. No more than 10 minutes later, he heard the voice of a woman who he feared would kick him out of the library.
Instead he heard these words:
“Free lunch at SafeHouse.”
He immediately gathered his things and made his way down the street to SafeHouse, where he was joined by about thirty other people like him: poor, homeless, and very wet, waiting to receive a free meal. Not only did he get a free meal that afternoon, but he also received a pair of dry socks and was able to have a good conversation with a stranger, something he had not done in a long time.
There is a large number of homeless people in Atlanta, and even though there are many times when they receive help from strangers, many of these people are overlooked. Yet there are some people like freshman Gracie Bray who have been helping others for so long that it just becomes a part of their character.
“Giving back was more of something that you did, like Christmas, no one says we have to put up a Christmas tree you just do it,” Bray said.
Bray is the daughter of Philip Bray, founder, president and CEO of SafeHouse Outreach. SafeHouse Outreach (SHO) is an organization dedicated to helping and changing the lives of those less fortunate in the Atlanta area. They believe in giving a “hand up, and not just a hand out.”
“We want to know your life: where you came from and how to help you from that because everyone’s situation is different,” Bray said. “We want to get you off the streets permanently.”
Although they do offer a place to stay and food to eat, SHO is not a homeless shelter. SHO does help many people, from those who are homeless to teenage moms, get their feet firmly back into society.
SHO started in 1982 when Bray’s father began helping rescue prostitutes off the streets by offering them a meal so they would feel safe. Today, SHO is recognized nationally as one of the top faith-based organizations and their help has expanded to include helping people get IDs (which are necessary to stay in a homeless shelter), directing them to a homeless shelter or rehab center and providing clothing among others.
Although founded on Christian principles, SafeHouse welcomes anyone to volunteer and doesn’t force their viewpoints on those they help.
“They’re really happy with that,” Bray raves, “there are Jewish people, atheists, and sometimes it’s the homeless people who preach to the people serving them.”
Just like the differing kinds of people who come into SHO, volunteers can do many things to help. They make pancakes, give socks, make grilled cheeses during the meal times or they can help with the different outreaches and fundraisers.
Due to the location that is in walking distance from main campus and connections with GSU’s Office of Civic Engagement, the number of Georgia State students who are volunteering has been increasing greatly.
Bray, who encourages students to help out, notices that students initially come for community service hours and curiosity.
“When they realize the relationships they can build and that the people they’re helping are people and not just crazy then they continue to come back” she adds “a good chunk of homeless people actually remember them because they’re used to getting ignored constantly and they actually get to sit down and talk to them.”
If there is anything to take from Gracie’s character is her heart of love. Being raised by community leaders has definitely has helped give her that heart.
She says that being involved has helped her learn more.
“The younger you are, the better, because you don’t grow up thinking a certain stereotype of people and you can build your own conclusion about them.”
She encourages everyone to come out and help at least once.
“You’ll never regret it.”
For more information, go to www.safehouseoutreach.org. Safehouse is located on 89 Ellis Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30303