For Atlanta resident Tony Morgan, the “new year, new you” mantra wasn’t just a cliché. It held a much deeper significance. For the first time in more than five years, Morgan began the new year inside a home to call his very own.
“I knew things would change,” Morgan says about his years living in shelters after a few misfortunate life events left him without a place to live. “Sometimes, it was frustrating. Sometimes, it makes you feel down. But I just dealt with it day by day. I just had to wait on the chance to come, and I got it.”
That chance came in the form of the HomeFirst program—a partnership between Atlanta Housing, Partners for Home, Invest Atlanta, the United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness, and others aimed at serving those at risk for homelessness or currently experiencing homelessness. In August 2020 and during the midst of a worsening pandemic, HomeFirst was able to move Morgan and eight other tenants from public shelters into their own supportive housing units.
“I was around hundreds and hundreds of people a day out there,” Morgan recalls of his social distancing concerns during the pandemic. “In the food line, we were together. In the shelter, we were together. And we were together even when we weren’t in a shelter. [When] we were on the street, we were together. Now, it’s not like that. It’s a totally different ball game.”
The tireless work of program managers, case managers, aids, and advocates made this possible, and for that, Morgan says he is extremely grateful. Lillian Marks, who was also one of the nine tenants recently moved into an apartment through the HomeFirst program, would fully agree. Like Morgan, Marks had been experiencing homelessness for five years, and she, too, is thankful for the program and all those involved who’ve helped her with the transition out of homelessness.
“They are still helping basically,” she says. “They still check on me to make sure if there is anything I need or if there is anything I want for my goals and stuff. They are keeping in touch.”
Both Marks and Morgan, feeling renewed by the opportunity, say they have been vocal about their experiences, wanting to make sure others in need get connected with the people and resources to better their situations, too.
“It’s changed me emotionally and spiritually,” Marks says. “I am in better spirits. Better moods. I sleep in a better room…It has given me a better outlook on my life—for the future, you know.”
For more information about the HomeFirst program, visit the https://partnersforhome.org/homefirst/.