For the homeless population of Atlanta and cities around the world, a place to sleep at night and finding stable housing have the highest priority. Beyond the hardships of not having a place to live, though, there are other, sometimes overlooked aspects that can go straight to the heart of effecting a person’s self-worth and pride. Seemingly simple, every day activities for some, like a man being able to shave his beard, or being able to receive a paycheck, aren’t easy to come by when living on the streets. For those necessities and more, there is Love Beyond Walls.
The organization unofficially started when Founder and Executive Director Terence Lester and his wife hit the streets of Atlanta, giving away clothes and items from their own home. From there, the Lesters started mobilizing their friends and family to help lead service projects in under resourced areas, eventually creating the nonprofit. Engaging the community through social advocacy, Love Beyond Walls advocates for those who are homeless and experiencing systemic poverty.
Lester applies his own “shoe-wearing” philosophy to the work of Love Beyond Walls, frequently walking in the shoes of those he serves. He has lived on the streets as a homeless person, under bridges and in tents, with no access to a change of clothes, to fully experience all that a homeless person endures on a daily basis.
“It’s about– how do I immerse myself into this sacrificial lifestyle in order to build a bridge between those who have and have not?” Lester said.
A 30-passenger bus that was donated to the organization for one dollar, also known as the Mobile Makeover Bus, is One of Love Beyond Walls most successful programs. The inspiration for the bus came from Leonard, a homeless man who had lost his wife and his hope, and hadn’t been able to properly groom or take care of himself for quite a while. Of all the things he could wish for, he said he wanted to be made over.
The bus is a conduit to self-care and other essential services. It holds a barbershop, a hygiene station and a clothing closet. It also offers further resources to help with steps toward self-sustainability. Since opening the bus, they have helped “makeover” more than 1,300 individuals, while also bringing dignity to those who don’t have access points on a regular basis.
“We are in the trenches every day. Service isn’t an event; it’s a lifestyle,” Lester said. “I’m constantly inspired and in awe. Every time I sit down with somebody who is experiencing homelessness, I am inspired by the stories they tell.”
The organization currently has two tiny homes that they are using for temporary housing for individuals without a place to live, many of whom are just caught in a string of bad luck. Through their Dignity Art Program, using pallet wood, homeless individuals in the program are taught how to take the pieces and turn them into art. They put their life stories and favorite words on the pieces, and then sell them at art shows. In the process, they learn a trade and earn a paycheck for their work.