Homelessness is an epidemic, even in the western countries in the world, and America are no exception to this, but one shelter in Atlanta has come up with an ingenious way to not only get the homeless who stay there back into some sort of work and routine, but also to feed them while they are at it.
They have done this through the creation of a rooftop garden, that was three years in the planning between 2006 and 2009, that they use to plant and nurture food, that the residents of the shelter then eat.
The Metro Atlanta Task Force is 95,000 square feet, making it the largest shelter in the southeastern United States, and despite the local residents in the area expressing their discomfort with the shelter at times and its reputation occasionally being damaged by various incidents, the work the shelter does cannot be disputed, with a safe place to stay provided for hundreds of people, not to mention food from the rooftop garden.
Not only is the garden used to provide food for the homeless, it is also used to let them experience working, and even provides urban farming certification and licensing should they earn it through the Truly Living Well programme the shelter runs.
For the 400 men, women and children who live in the shelter, the garden is something they rely on not only for food but for therapy, time out and to feel like they are giving something back.
The garden has 80 raised beds that are filled with plenty of fresh, wholesome foods, including lettuces, collard greens, kale, chard, carrots, strawberries, radishes, squash, watermelon, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes and green beans to name but a few.
Organisation director, Anita Beaty claimed:
Everything we do is a learning experience and job training for our residents. Everything involves the residents, and our whole building is a certification effort.
The garden functions as a classroom where we can train residents in green technology, which is important because homeless and poor people are regularly excluded from green development.
Part of the conventional way homelessness has been addressed has been to emphasize fixing people instead of the conditions that cause poverty.
Homeless people are assumed to be full of deficits. But homelessness is not a blood type; it is the experience of extreme poverty, and the experience of people who are chronically excluded from housing. For the garden expansion, like all of our programs, we will use and certify resident labour.
Through this, residents get the experience necessary for employment, as well as certification and practical experience.
The shelter offers beds and food in exchange for participation in volunteer responsibilities, with the garden a huge part of that.
There are plans to expand the garden going forward, and after reading this, it is hard to see any reason that is not a good idea – or why other shelters and governments are not trying to replicate the idea or something similar to help homeless people break the cycle they are in.