At a time when the economically disadvantaged of Atlanta are increasingly losing their jobs and homes because of the global health pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, the city’s Jewish community is stepping up to the plate. Starting this month, the community’s two synagogue-based homeless shelters are partnering to provide summer day services for homeless women, couples and families.
Most homeless shelters are not open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And the homeless shelter season is generally October or November through April. The new collaborative day services program that started in June will operate through August. The program will include access to computers, showers, lunches and job training support. Although it will operate at the larger Zaban Paradies Center at The Temple and will be staffed by that center Mondays and Wednesdays, the staff at Rebecca’s Tent: Spiegel Women’s Shelter at (Congregation) Shearith Israel will provide services on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The program will be available by advanced reservation from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The program is based on a pilot day services program started last year, said Tasho Wesley, executive director at Rebecca’s Tent. “We saw an opportunity to expand our services.”
Adrianne Hamilton-Butler, executive director at the Zaban shelter, said. “People experiencing homelessness are in crisis and need places to go that are safe and that will treat them with dignity. People are very desperate right now. It’s an especially scary time for them. There are people who are experiencing bad circumstances and don’t always have other support.”
For the two executive directors of the shelters, working together on a joint program was a no-brainer. According to Hamilton-Butler, she and Wesley had worked together at a domestic violence shelter in Forsyth County from 2012 to 2013.
“When I became director of Zaban and realized that we had programs in common, we started talking” about joint ventures, Hamilton-Butler told the AJT. That was not long after she joined Zaban in December, and before the virus had started its deadly march across the country. “Once COVID happened, we realized we did need to come together.”
Hamilton-Butler said she first approached The Temple Senior Rabbi Peter Berg and “he was extremely receptive.”
Berg said, “The Temple is proud of its historical link to the Zaban Paradies Center and supports its efforts to help couples experiencing homelessness to transition to self-sufficiency, especially during this challenging time. We believe that the collaboration between the Center and Rebecca’s Tent to address the increased need for food, shelter, and emotional support will have a transformational impact on our community. The work of these organizations aligns with our steadfast commitment to aid and uplift those who are vulnerable and marginalized.”
Similarly, Rabbi Ari Kaiman of Shearith Israel pointed out that the collaborative effort is part of a broader vision steeped in Jewish tradition. “We are taught that the beginning of our future redemption is with a homeless woman named Ruth, who committed herself to be part of a community and received great kindness. Ruth’s great-grandson was King David. His legacy was uniting the Kingdom of Israel. The united work of Rebecca’s Tent and Zaban Paradies Center to show kindness to our most vulnerable population has within it the seeds of redemption. May this collaboration bring success and growth for those who receive these new services, and may their successes be a part of our future collective redemption.”
Hamilton-Butler said, “The Jewish community has been amazingly supportive.” For people who feel hopeless right now, it means a lot “to know we have brothers and sisters wanting to reach out.”
In fact, Wesley said the majority of the more than 400 volunteers who prepare meals, serve meals and provide other services at the shelters are from the Jewish community.
Rebecca’s Tent has operated at Shearith Israel in Morningside for more than 30 years to homeless women in Atlanta and DeKalb County. Zaban Paradies Center, for 35 years located on the campus of The Temple, provides support to homeless couples as they transition from homelessness to economic stability.