After winter, we look forward to warmer weather, but a Georgia summer can be stifling—hot, humid, and exhausting. We may enjoy some outdoor recreation, but we look forward to going back to our air-conditioned cars and homes, sipping an icy beverage and perhaps taking a cool shower after just a few hours outside.
But what if you were experiencing homelessness and had no way out of the heat? What if you had to spend your days and nights outdoors without relief, with no cool water, drenched in perspiration with no way of getting yourself or your clothes clean?
Fortunately, for women and children, there’s a welcome alternative to the misery of unrelenting summer heat: Atlanta Mission’s The Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children.
Beating the heat
Denise is an ambassador at The Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children (ADS). Her job is to build relationships with the clients who come through the door looking for help. “They just walk right into an air-conditioned building where they’re welcomed in and asked what they need,” she says of how ADS works for the heat-weary looking for relief.
That might include a shower, laundry services, a home-cooked meal, summer clothing or diapers and formula for the little ones. “They’re welcome to spend the day,” Denise says. “They can just hang out, or take a life skills class, do Zumba, participate in a discussion group, play board games.”
But the women aren’t the only ones who feel stress from the heat; the kids do too. A special Childcare Ambassador creates fun, relaxing programs for them, including playtime, learning opportunities and arts and crafts projects.
For those who need more
The Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children is open from 8:15 am to 3:00 pm, but for those who also need a place to spend the night, the staff will work to find them a place to sleep. Atlanta Mission’s My Sister’s House is the first choice for overnight accommodations, but if there is no space available, Day Services will work to find temporary housing. If something longer term is needed, the team goes on the hunt to help place them.
Body and spirit
Denise reminds us that heat puts a lot of stress on the body, and it’s not just from possible dehydration: “When you’re outside sweating, you’re burning a lot of calories. People need to eat.” Of course, being homeless comes with plenty of other stresses too, so one of the goals of ADS is to create a pleasant, low-tension environment.
Part of that process involves addressing the emotional and spiritual well-being of each person who passes through its doors. In addition to having their physical needs attended to, the clients are brought into an environment where people like Denise truly care about each individual as a whole person.
She tells a story of a woman who came from out of state after leaving a gang. It took her a while to drop her tough demeanor, but in time, she let her walls down. She has now embarked on a new life journey with the help of counseling and a solid foundation in faith. The key to her transformation? Simply feeling that she really mattered to someone.
Summer is a busy time
As the number on the thermometer goes up, so does the number of people stopping by ADS. Denise estimates they may see as many as 50 percent more clients on a daily basis during the summer. When the heat becomes unbearable, women in need come because they’ve heard positive things about ADS, or they were referred by 211, the Federal Communications Commission’s helpline number.
When dealing with her hot, exhausted clients, Denise has come to appreciate her own privilege and how much we take for granted—how something as commonplace as air conditioning can make such a difference in quality of life, for example.
That’s a good thing, she says. “My ADS clients may not believe it when I say that I’m not helping change them, they change me. But I’m more grounded now, less selfish—they’ve rocked my life!”