Finding Strength and Stability One Run at a Time

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:45am, you can find the team at Back on My Feet Atlanta running the streets. With workouts ranging from one to three miles they are consistent and unwavering with their runs.

But this consistency isn’t just about getting up their heart rate. In fact, the running itself is just an added benefit.

Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit with twelve chapters across the country, including one right here in Atlanta. The organization uses running to help combat homelessness in the city. Through running, Back on My Feet hopes to promote community support, and find new opportunities for employment, housing, and educational resources for those most in need.

“We seek to revolutionize the way our society approaches homelessness,” said Tanya Watkins, the organization’s Executive Director. “We believe that if we first restore confidence and self-esteem, individuals are better-equipped to tackle the road ahead, and move on to full-time jobs and homes.”

Atlanta has seen a significant drop in homelessness from 2013-2016, with numbers decreasing by almost 20%. These are promising statistics, but the problem still exists with 8,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night.

Back on My Feet partners with four shelters in the area to recruit runners of all skill levels. At the Salvation Army, City of Refuge, Gateway Center, and Trinity House, they meet with potential runners to tell them about the program.

Once a person signs up, they commit to three runs a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each at 5:45am. This lasts for 30 days, and runners can only miss one run (90% attendance) during that time. From there, they are moved on to the second phase of the program, “Next Steps,” which allows the runners to receive resources on education, employment, and job training.

This initial 30-day period helps participants demonstrate commitment and dedication, skills they will need to get and maintain employment in the future. The nonprofit provides the runner with all the gear: running shoes, socks, and clothes. Much of this gear is collected through donations, including a large partnership with Brooks.

The runs every day are from one to three miles, with an optional longer run on Saturdays. When the 30-day trial period is over, participants can still run, but the additional resources become part of the program. Participants work on their goals for the future, and engage in steps to better their lives. These goals could range from putting together a resume to finding permanent housing. Back on My Feet also offers financial aid for those who have demonstrated commitment and need.

The organization is always looking for volunteers to participate in the morning runs. These runs, combining volunteers and participants bring everyone together, removing the isolation and stigma of homelessness.

Supporters can also give financially to the organization, and raise money for Back on My Feet through different running races. Those interested in learning more can check out atlanta.backonmyfeet.org.

Spotlight: HomeAid Atlanta

Annual Essentials Drive, courtesy of HomeAid Atlanta
Annual Essentials Drive, courtesy of HomeAid Atlanta

Feeling safe and secure are some of life’s most important necessities. To have the comfort of a warm home, protecting you from the elements and keeping you from the dangers and instability of living on the street. To go to work and to school without fear of threats or peril. To be prepared when life throws you an obstacle or calamitous event. HomeAid Atlanta is an Atlanta-based organization working to help individuals find this safety and security. Its goal is to offer this stability, and this comfort to those it serves. HomeAid Atlanta’s Executive Director Mandy Crater talks about HomeAid Atlanta’s fifteen year history of helping the homeless population find housing. “HomeAid Atlanta’s mission is to build new lives for homeless families and individuals through housing and community outreach,” Crater says. “We were founded in 2001 and we are the designated charity of the Atlanta Home Builders Association. We work with both the residential and commercial building industries, as well as the community to build and renovate housing for nonprofit organizations that work directly with Atlanta’s homeless. To date, HomeAid Atlanta has completed 53 housing remodels.” HomeAid Atlanta helps homeless individuals and families move into more stable housing. “There are approximately 9,000 homeless people on any given night in metro-Atlanta,” Crater says. “Forty percent are women and children, and twenty-one percent are veterans.”

Crater mentions the “invisible homeless:” those sleeping in their cars, extended-stay hotels, and crashing for multiple nights on the couches of friends. This group often includes those displaced after a sudden and unexpected life event. HomeAid Atlanta serves victims of domestic violence, teen mothers, abused or abandoned children, and veterans. “We help somebody that needs some time to get back on their feet,” Crater says. The organization does this by building both individual and multi-unit homes in coordination with local builders and trade workers. Individuals who live in the homes are expected to take classes on budgeting and financial literacy, parenting, and work readiness.

“One of their graduates is a homeowner now,” Crater says. “After being at the Phoenix Pass location for two years, and working two jobs, she was able to apply and qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home. In two years, she went from being on the street to being a homeowner. It’s life-changing.” One of HomeAid’s biggest initiatives is their Essentials Drive, in which they collect necessary items for families and babies. During the drive they accept diapers, wipes, formula, and baby food. Crater says this is a great way for those who do not renovate or build homes to give back.

HomeAid always does the drive right before Mother’s Day, this year from April 25 to May 3, collecting items that get used up and are costly to replace. “Sometimes they are choosing between food and changing their baby’s diaper,” Crater says. In addition to accepting individual donations, HomeAid works with 30 different organizations doing drives throughout the city. These sites and organizations can be found at www.homeaidatlanta.org.

“We are out their building housing every day,” Crater says. “We serve as a bridge, connecting local builders, trades, and suppliers with local nonprofit service providers, providing a unique and meaningful way for members of the building industry to give back. We try to save 50 percent of the construction costs- through donations from national partners, from local partners, from time, talent, and material.”

This cost savings goes back into the programs and services helping the homeless individuals find more stable housing. For individuals and builders alike looking to connect with HomeAid Atlanta, they can visit the website at www.homeaidatlanta.org or call 678-775-1401.