Greenway provides ministry opportunities in Atlanta

By: David Ibata

Caleb Louden, a Salvation Army mission specialist, and two police officers struggled across jagged rocks and grasping underbrush in the early morning darkness of a deep ravine one day last December. Flashlights in hand, they glimpsed a figure in a sleeping bag in the space just beneath a highway bridge.

They made the man an offer: Leave the homeless encampment – about to be displaced by a regional trail project – and go to the shelter at the Red Shield Harbor Light Corps in Atlanta, Georgia, where trail organizers would pay $10 a day for 120 days to sponsor him. The man gratefully accepted.

Later, he told Louden what he’d been doing just before they found him.

“He told me he’d been homeless for many years and had been struggling spiritually, knowing that he wasn’t living the way God wanted him to live,” said Louden, of the Atlanta Temple Corps in Brookhaven, Georgia. “In the moments before we showed up, he finally said, ‘Alright God – I give up. I surrender. I want to be obedient to your will for my life.’

“He was praying with his eyes closed. When he opened them, there we were.”

The man was one of 10 individuals who agreed to move to the Red Shield shelter. There, they had a warm bed; food, clothing and medical care; and, if they wished, spiritual counseling, job training and help overcoming substance abuse. For two individuals – one had a stroke at the shelter, and another was near kidney failure – the move probably saved their lives.

Brookhaven, a city northeast of Atlanta, is building the first phase of a multi-use recreational path called the Peachtree Creek Greenway. The trail follows the North Fork of Peachtree Creek, which runs directly behind the Atlanta Temple Corps and Southern Territorial Headquarters.

The Army is letting Brookhaven create a trailhead and parking lot on part of its campus, as well as a 14-by-160-foot mural on a retaining wall it owns; the municipality has applied for a $60,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to pay for the painting.

In the weeks leading up to the December groundbreaking ceremony for the project, city officials realized they had homeless people living under several bridges.

Brookhaven City Manager Christian Sigman, Project Executive Moe Trebuchon and Brookhaven Police Sergeant Jacob Kissel did not want to simply evict the campers. Seeking a more humane course of action, they contacted Captain Kenneth Argot, Atlanta Temple Corps officer.

The corps has been serving its homeless neighbors for about 10 years with Showers and Laundry Time with Devotions – SALT’D. Once a week, people are invited to come in for a hot shower, a change of clothes and a supply of food. They also can drop off laundry; the corps will wash their clothes and have them ready for pick-up the following week.

SALT’D has about 30 regulars, some walking eight miles to the corps.

Louden described three types of homeless people he’s encountered: those struggling with substance abuse, others in financial difficulty, and a few with severe mental health challenges. When crisis hits, a person without a good support network can easily become homeless, he said.

Kissel and Louden made several visits to the camps, handing out water and snacks and speaking with residents to win their trust. In the end, besides six persons assisted by Brookhaven for four months, The Salvation Army sponsored four more homeless individuals to move to Red Shield for two months.

Some have since gotten jobs and permanent places to live; others have found alternate living arrangements or assistance from agencies such as the VA. The former homeless encampments are empty as the trail nears completion.

“I think about Jesus saying the poor will always be among you,” Louden said. “People have it in their heads that in a major urban setting, you can push homeless people out and that ends the problem. I don’t think that’s realistic. There are lots of places people can live outdoors; and every day, someone new becomes homeless. We are here to meet each need in Jesus’ name.”