“I wanna be a part of society that’s doing what’s right," Tony Rhodes, a local homeless man, told The Times in a story published in November.
This week, Rhodes, 40, took the first steps to making good on that assertion when he graduated from the Georgia Works! workforce development and transitional housing program in Atlanta.
He has now relocated to Florida to rejoin his family and begin working in the family construction business.
“I told him he was always welcome at Georgia Works! if he was trying to live his life the right way, and that he will never have to live outside again,” program founder Bill McGahan said in an email. “Even if he has no money, but is clean and trying hard, he can call us and we will get him a bus ticket and he can come back.”
For the better part of 10 years, Rhodes was homeless in Gainesville and hustling on local streets to get by.
Then he was selected as the first local man to join Georgia Works!, a privately funded program that has provided case management for nearly 200 men who have graduated over the past few years.
These homeless men are required to address any substance abuse problems, criminal recidivism, mental health or other issues they have, and they must pay a small rent and save money to stay in the yearlong program.
In return, they begin cleaning the streets of Atlanta for $7.40 an hour, then later find temporary employment with a supporting business.
“Our community adopted him to support his rehabilitation and recovery to self-sufficiency,” said Doug Hanson, a Gainesville resident and passionate advocate for the homeless who recruited Rhodes for the Atlanta program. “My prayer is that (Rhodes’) short stay will have made such an indelible impression on his life that he is changed forever. We are all in the business of changing lives.”
Rhodes, speaking by phone Friday morning from Florida, said he has reconnected with a lost love and plans to marry in March. He’s also looking for an Alcoholics Anonymous support group to attend to continue his recovery.
“It was fascinating,” he said of his experience in Georgia Works!. “It was good. God is really working inside that facility. It taught me how to be a man again.”