Though we may not be aware of it, we live in a city with thousands, yes thousands, of homeless people. Sometimes they are the ones carrying garbage bags bulging with their possessions or those wearing threadbare clothes who sleep wherever they can.
They may also be the folks in low-paying jobs who live in their cars and work hard to look clean and healthy every day. What they all need is a safe place to go at night and help getting back on their feet.
During the very cold winter of 1983, a group of members at Congregation Shearith Israel, led by Helen and Frank Spiegel, decided it wasn’t right or humane that there were no shelters for homeless women in Atlanta. So the hard work began to create a haven for the homeless, and the Shearith Israel Shelter was born. Thirty-five years later the shelter, now an independent 501(c)(3) known as Rebecca’s Tent, continues its important work to house, feed and provide resources to women who badly need a helping hand.
Over the years, shelter services have expanded to include training in money management, resume writing and job-readiness skills. There also is computer training and assistance with online job hunting and the skills needed to get and keep a job.
As the New Year approaches, our Jewish community has an opportunity to step up and make a significant difference for women who want better lives for themselves. Volunteer activities such as holding a paper goods drive, organizing friends to provide a week of home-cooked meals for shelter residents, or volunteering to serve a meal or staff the shelter on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day are all meaningful ways to show you care.
There also is a need for organizers of shelter tours for school children to teach them about this important societal problem, as well as to help with large and small fundraising activities to cover the costs of paying utilities and keeping the shelter’s doors open.
Donations of umbrellas, raincoats and warm winter scarves and gloves, among other items, are most welcome, too.
There are many reasons that women become homeless, such as domestic violence.
Sometimes the cause may be unexpected expenses for medical care for a serious illness. Perhaps a job is lost because a company has changed locations and is no longer near a MARTA station or bus stop. Many homeless women are well-educated working people whose lives have taken a wrong turn.
Rebecca’s Tent provides case management to put each resident on her own path to solving her problems and working towards independence and stability. There also are the basics that so many of us take for granted, including three meals each day, laundry and shower facilities, a secure place for personal possessions and the availability of medical and dental care.
Tikkun Olam is a driving force at Rebecca’s Tent, and it truly takes a village to create real support for our fellow human beings and to help them become more productive members of our society. Working to serve this very vulnerable group is a special mitzvah that can help to enrich our lives in the coming months.
As the new year approaches, remember that there are people who live among us who need and welcome our help.