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Adam Seeley & Emmaus House Empower Peoplestown Neighborhood

Matt Parrish presented Mr. Adam Seeley, Director of Social Services of the Emmaus House in Peoplestown, Atlanta, as our speaker. Adam’s a traveler: He grew up in Iowa, graduated college from the University of Rhode Island, and came to Atlanta, landing at the Emmaus House. He explained that the Emmaus House, named for a town in first century Palestine visited by Jesus after his resurrection, is a fifty+-year-old organization whose mission is to improve the economic and social well-being of the residents in Peoplestown and surrounding neighborhoods. It was founded by the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta by the late Father Austin Ford who felt strongly that the church was not doing nearly enough to support people in Atlanta’s inner city and was able to convince the Episcopal Diocese to make major financial investments in what came to be the Emmaus House. More than fifty years later, Emmaus House still receives about a third of its financial support from the Episcopal Diocese and from other faith organizations, another third from individual donations and a third from private foundations. Adam says Emmaus House generally does not seek federal funds because the federal bureaucracies take away staff time work with residents and their children. In response to questions from Ed Henderson and Kevin Wilson, Adam said Emmaus House exists as a part of the community which uses word-of-mouth to share the opportunities of Emmaus House with other residents. Emmaus House refers residents to organizations with high levels of skill in suicide prevention and domestic violence; it uses United Way and its 2-1-1 hotline for giving and receiving help to find ways to support residents. (In seeking shelter for families in the greatest need, Ed said some shelters will not take older teen boys, which severely disrupts life opportunities for boys and devastates their families when faced with splitting up.) Emmaus House sponsors extensive education programs in support of the Atlanta Public Schools System from pre-K through high school and assists students in preparing academically for and enrolling in postsecondary education. Adam noted that overcoming ‘summer melt’ - the learning loss occurring after school ends in May - has been a major focus of its education program. As a result, 85% of students served by Emmaus House maintained or gained in reading levels when school resumes in August. Adam expressed gratitude that the public has been supportive, and for its fundraising success during 2020. He fears the ravages of COVID-19 will extend far into 2021 and produce greater strain on finances – meaning there are high levels of concern of greater uncertainty and even more upheaval among residents in Peoplestown for the coming year. Housing is increasingly in shorter supply and actually is threatened for historic residents, most of whom are renters. Developers are buying up housing and then raising rents that are beyond the wherewithal of residents to afford, requiring their relocation to other areas, including Clayton County. Similarly, homeowners are seeing their property taxes increasing which Adam says has forced some to sell (sometimes at below market amounts) and move from the area. He also reported that some 12 residents have died from COVID-19. All of this disruption causes losses of friendships, which is a core force in building and maintaining community. Adam described the impact of COVID-19 noting some organizations that serve the poor have been unable to continue, placing increased strain on the Emmaus House. This summer, through huge food donations by the Atlanta Community Food Bank some 100,000 pounds of food were served to those who could not work owing to their places of employment having closed, resulting in losses of work and income. Emmaus House took great pains to serve food safely through a special portal in one of its buildings to protect its staff and volunteers and the persons picking up the food. Services have been lost when several organizations providing support lack funds and resources – which has torn a huge hole in Peopletown’s social fabric. But Emmaus always seems to step in, which has been especially important because lost jobs cut income for residents’ revenue. So in addition to being short on food, residents also have needed cash assistance to pay rent and utilities – fortunately, Emmaus House has been able to help.

Posted by Neil Shorthouse
December 11, 2020 2:00pm

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