Statistically speaking, Atlanta’s 30314 ZIP code is No. 1 in the city and state in many regards. Unfortunately, almost all of those statistics are negative. This inner-city section of Fulton County has the lowest median household income rates and the highest rates of homelessness, poverty, high school dropouts, single-parent households, crime and more. Yet, the ZIP code does have something going for it—something that can help change those inauspicious statistics for the better. It has City of Refuge, a faith-based, nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping those who have not been able to help themselves.
“We call the people we help the last, the lost and the least,” says Jeff Deel, communications director for City of Refuge. “Our mission is to identify the weakest, most helpless individuals in the city who really want help—who really want something better for their lives—and then do everything in our power to make that happen for them.”
It’s not necessarily what Bruce Deel, executive director, had in mind when he came to Atlanta in 1997 to assume the pastorate of a very small church on 14th Street. Initially, his assignment was to close The Mission Church and sell the property—a project that should have taken about 6 months. However, as Deel continued to hold services for the handful of parishioners left, people began walking in off the streets. Many of them homeless, teetering on the poverty line or living without a sense of direction: they needed not only spiritual counsel, but also some of the most basic human essentials, from a hot meal to clothing and shelter. The Mission Church met those needs as best as it could, even housing a few people in the basement from time to time. Eventually, the church’s outreach efforts grew and evolved, and City of Refuge was born.
Today, the organization—operating out of two warehouses located on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard that total 210,000 square feet of space and were donated to The Mission Church by the Mimms family—offers a number of programs that are designed to “bring hope to those who live on the margin.” Eden Village I, a 44-unit transitional-housing facility for women and their children, shelters those in need for 120 days and gives them access to social workers who can help them prepare to live on their own. Eden Village II provides single women with comparable shelter and services for 90 days. And while there is no housing for men due to safety reasons, they can take advantage of the organization’s myriad of on-site services, which allow City of Refuge to help its clientele make positive, permanent changes in their lives. For example, its Lifeline Programs provide year-round necessities like food, clothing and emotional support for people in crisis, while its Resource and Training Department offers individuals the tools and resources they need to become gainfully employed and self-sufficient. “We call it a hand-up instead of a handout,” Deel says. “We believe in trying to help people come up out of their negative circumstances and begin making good decisions.”
Over the next several months, City of Refuge will add to its already impressive group of programs with the development of an on-site medical clinic that will be operated in collaboration with Grady and Emory hospitals. The completion of the clinic will depend on the availability of funding and additional resources. “We feel blessed and genuinely rewarded, “ Deel says. There is this phenomenal sense that you’re doing what is right. It’s right to help people who need help. It’s not until somebody gets up and does something that anything will get done. The problems in this area are still enormous, but for a lot of individuals, things are not nearly as bad as they used to be.”
For more information, to make a donation or to find out about volunteer opportunities, visit www.cityofrefugeinc.com.
For City of Refuge, the numbers speak for themselves.
- Between Eden Village I and Eden Village II, 235 residents live on the City of Refuge property every day of the week.
- The 180o Kitchen, a full commercial kitchen, accommodates more than 500 people for sit-down meals and serves nearly 20,000 meals each month.
- Through the Compassion Atlanta program, City of Refuge provides 40 partners--including smaller pantry organizations and recovery and rehabilitation programs--with food items, reaching approximately 30,000 individuals throughout the city.
- More than 2,500 volunteers offered their time and services to the organization in 2009.
- City of Refuge currently has a matching-grant giving opportunity established by a generous donor, who will match all funds raised to benefit the ministry up to a total of $150,000.