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New transitional housing center a ‘chance to change quality of life’ for homeless
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Jerry Deyton, left, pastor and operator of a day center for the homeless in Gainesville called The Way, speaks with Doug Hanson, advocate for chronically homeless men. - photo by Joshua Silavent

A diamond ring turned into cash. A $20 bill from a restaurant worker whose eyes were filled with tears.

Both are examples of donations given to Doug Hanson for the North Georgia Works program to help the homeless.

“It was an expression of his heart, and it’s emotional,” Hanson said of the tearful donation.

Since Nov. 30, the group has raised $65,000 in private individual donations in a fund sponsored by the North Georgia Community Foundation.

“This community has bought into this emotionally, spiritually and collaboratively,” Hanson said. “It’s a big deal.”

Georgia Works logo
- photo by For The Times
The Hall County Board of Commissioners approved the lease Tuesday night, March 6, for transitional housing providing workforce development for homeless men.

The annual rent would be $1 from North Georgia Works for the space at 1255 Vine St.

Doug Hanson, who is spearheading the project, said he plans to adopt some of the policies that have been successful at Georgia Works, an Atlanta group billing itself on its website as transforming “chronically homeless men into self-sufficient and productive members of society.”

“When they are in the program, they’re receiving transitional housing to change their environment, to improve their environment, build peer skills, soft skills and understand how they can work together and enjoy life without substance abuse,” Hanson said.

A graduate of the program will have a permanent job, housing and a savings account as well as potentially reconnect with family. The motto is “where work works.”

One man’s story at Georgia Works inspired Hanson to keep pushing for the project during the four-year buildup to Tuesday’s lease agreement. The man had been in the program for three months and was able to reconnect with his daughter in Nashville, Tenn. She was delighted to see her father’s progress and asked when he would finish the program. She wanted him to walk her down the aisle at her wedding.

“That motivated me to bring the same kind of a compassionate family reunification to my ZIP code,” Hanson said.

The need for the workforce development housing can be seen at the United Way Compass Center, a resource center for those in poverty. Two or three people per week will come to the center “cold, tired, hurting and desperate,” Hanson said.

“We find over and over again that when these men have been released from jail and they don’t have family and they don’t have documents, they really don’t know what to do. Some of them have walked 5 miles just to get to a friend to get a phone,” Hanson said.

Testifying in June before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Georgia Works chairman and founder Bill McGahan explained the benefits of the program.

The testimony came during a hearing titled “Criminal Justice Reform and Efforts to Reduce Recidivism.”

“While a man is at Georgia Works, he is learning how to be a valuable employee at a private business ... eliminating the obstacles that might prevent him from being employed, and he is working on his addiction or other problem that is the root cause of his problems,” McGahan said. “He is also making money through his own work, not through a handout.”

McGahan also cited a study from Georgia Tech showing that Georgia Works “saved our community $6 to $11 for every dollar invested in our program” because graduates “don’t go back to prison and recidivism drops like a stone.”

Before they can work toward building up the Vine Street location, Hanson said the group is working on moving Hall County historical documents housed there to a new location on Main Street.

Hall County Clerk of Courts Charles Baker said the records go back 200 years to 1818 and the county’s founding. Court officials estimated more than 1,000 boxes in the facility.

The documents will be housed in a building 800 steps from the Hall County Courthouse, and North Georgia Works agreed to climatize that building to protect the documents, Hanson said.

“Part of our plan was to find a suitable location for those historical documents,” Hanson said.

Hanson said this could take the rest of the month to move the documents, barring delays.

North Georgia Works is in the process of hiring staff, including an executive director to handle case management and administrative work. There will also be a resident manager on the property 24/7.

“We have an opportunity to make a huge difference in the quality of life for these able-bodied, unsheltered men,” Hanson said. “It’s huge, and that’s what’s motivated me.”

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