Homeless Won't be Left in Cold
Douglasville man starting a program to help get sleeping bags, other items to area homeless.
With frigid winter temperatures being the norm lately, many of us are spending all our time inside heated homes and vehicles to keep warm–but what about those who don’t have either of those options? One Douglasville resident is taking that question to heart by starting a program that he hopes will help keep the Atlanta area homeless warmer in 2011.
Brian Preston, 29, was confronted with the harsh reality of what homelessness could mean when his family was hit by the downturn in the economy several years ago. His construction business at the time went under, causing him to lose his house and vehicle. While Preston and his wife, April, had family to lean on and were eventually able to secure other jobs, he realized that not everyone was as blessed.
These circumstances led Preston to get involved with “Live Love,” an organization that sends out teams to give blankets to the homeless whenever temperatures drop below 30-degrees. On one such night, Preston helped distribute the blankets on the streets of Atlanta. What he saw shocked him.
“People were sleeping in parking garages and alleyways. It broke my heart,” he said. “There are a lot of needs there.”
It didn’t take long for Preston to realize that the homeless problem extends past the boundaries of Atlanta. In Douglasville, where Preston works as Creative Director at Crossroads Church, he was told about a community of homeless people that live in the woods just off a busy road where thousands of cars pass by each day. The situation there is dire, with 8 to 10 people at any given time living under tarps roped up between trees. All of them, ranging in age from 35 to 55, share a small wood burning heater and the limited number of possessions they have are scattered about. It looks like a scene one would expect to see in a third world country, not suburban United States.
With this information in mind and the fact that he had previously had success raising money for Haiti earthquake relief by selling shirts, Preston had an epiphany.
Starting in March, Preston will be launching “Elder," a company designed to engage American consumers in helping the homeless all around them. Elder, also ran by his friends Chris Reynolds and Carson Ray, will start out selling bracelets actually made by some of the homeless in Douglasville. The bracelets will retail for $3, half of which will go back into the homeless community by providing shelter and food. The homeless that wish to participate in creating the bracelets will be shown how to make them and even be paid to do it. Not only does this provide financial support, it also helps give them a sense of self-worth.
“I want to help restore purpose and dignity to them,” Preston said.
Preston explained that Elder will use most of the funds to buy the things the homeless need, which helps to ensure that it isn’t being used to sustain any bad habits.
The rest of the money will go back into the company, which will eventually begin selling military style coats and other pieces of clothing. For each coat sold, Elder is partnering with “Live Love” to give one homeless person a sleeping bag. For those hip enough to know, think TOMS shoes but making a difference closer to home.
Preston has been visiting the 10 or so people who live in the homeless “village” since November. For him, it is just as much about showing them love as it is providing any other need they may have.
“We are just really trying to build relationships with them. We don’t want to hand them a meal and then just leave.”
One homeless person Preston has gotten to know is 50-year-old Eddie Finkley. Finkley, who used to be a school teacher, said that he lost everything recently after a relationship in his life went bad. He spends his time reading and writing and hopes to “find a job and get out of here soon.”
“We try to do as much as we can up here,” he said.
He explained that he at least gets to stay in a tent now, whereas before he had nothing shielding him from the harsh winter air.
“It was cold at night,” he said. “Really cold.”
For those who say that all the majority homeless people do is buy alcohol and that they choose to be in the situations they are in, Preston reminds us that we are all just a few bad breaks away from being in a similar situation.
“These are our neighbors and in this economy, it could have easily been us. Who’s to say we wouldn’t act the same way under those circumstances.”