Homeless Woman Compares Shelter Experiences


Atlanta shelters treat people with dignity while LA shelters treat people as numbers

I’ve been homeless in both Los Angeles and Atlanta. There’s a difference in how homeless people are treated and who helps them. That makes all the difference in the world.

In Los Angeles, homeless people are “dealt with” by government and private agencies such as the LA Homeless Services Authority, PATH, Rapid Rehousing, and even 211. It’s different in Atlanta.

I live in a shelter called the City of Refuge (COR). It’s a nonprofit, Christian-based organization. Another shelter is called “My Sister’s House”, also nonprofit. These and other organizations cater to individuals rather than the masses because they see homeless people that way. In LA, because those organizations have long since established a line between themselves and clientele, homeless people are barely endured.

They are treated as numbers.

For instance, I was able to find an organization called St Josephs in Venice Beach, CA. They would allow you to take showers if you signed up beforehand. You’d also have to sign up for meals for the next day or the day after if the list was full. You could also have your mail delivered there, and you had access to services such as Rapid Rehousing. If you’re not on your P’s and Q’s however, you’d miss out. There was never someone to provide assistance to those who needed it. You were pretty much on your own.

On the other hand, I was speaking to an older woman who used to sleep under the bridges here in Atlanta. She stayed there for three years. Why did she not attempt to move into a shelter? Because every week, at least five churches would deliver food, clothing and personal hygiene items. She said an organization called “Hope with Soap” occasionally offered her the opportunity to take a shower. And she sometimes visited churches to sleep on cots. She was never forced to do anything for those conveniences, and she was hardly ever harassed by the police. That would not happen in California.

The Difference

Here’s an example of how differently southern churches treat homeless people. At COR, an opportunity to participate in a weekend event came up. On a Saturday, 12 of us ladies were chosen to enjoy breakfast then have our hair, nails, and eyelashes done as well as facials. We were taken to a beauty school where student beauticians worked on us. When we were all dolled up, we were then taken back to the church where lunch was waiting. After lunch, a clothing closet was opened to us to find anything we may need regarding clothing.

On Sunday, there was a huge breakfast, a wonderful church service, and then an amazing dinner at a popular restaurant here in town. When it was over, we were promised these things would take place again in the future. They provided us with phone numbers and emails so we could ask for assistance with anything in the meantime. This was just one of many services COR offered us.

In comparison, when I was homeless on Venice Beach, the shelters were filthy and crowded.

I could never leave my important items anywhere for fear of theft. And never was there any indication I could get help from any individual. I had to find help on my own through programs heard about by my fellow homeless friends. If I found a way to get assistance, I’d have to find transportation to and from that agency. Upon request for help, I’d have to deal with a different person every time. If my paperwork was incorrect in any way, I’d have to start all over again. The alternative was that at any time, I could be harassed by police and even arrested for sleeping outside on the beach.

I don’t know what’s going on with the church in California. In Georgia, it’s believed the act of giving is just as important as tithing. I never saw the efforts of any church service in LA aside from a church passing out sandwiches on the Boardwalk monthly. I wonder if they even acknowledge there is a need for help for those experiencing homelessness. Maybe someone can school me on this issue.

More Respect and Consistency

The bottom line is, being homeless in Atlanta brings more assistance from a wide variety of sources. Each source has a different program, and in each program, an individual takes the time to assist you in your needs. That person is readily available. And if they cannot find the answer, they will point you in the right direction.

Homeless people in Atlanta are treated with dignity, and provided assistance to get back up. You’re seen as a fellow human being, and help can be easily found to alleviate your situation.

In California, homeless people are treated with barely a tolerance and mostly mistrust. You may have fallen, but you’ve only yourself to blame. If you don’t get the help you need, you’re not trying hard enough. Either that, or you are not good enough. That spirit permeates throughout every agency you visit. Why?

I must say, the south has its charms. One of them being a giving spirit. COR allows its residents to stay up to six months to rebuild a life. The donations from corporate sponsors are off the chain. And the people from the churches who volunteer are kind beyond measure. It makes you want to better your situation if only to become a philanthropist to give back just as you have been given unto.

This temporary situation in which I find myself, has truly taught me a valuable lesson. When people treat you with respect, you want to return it and pass it on to others.

Allison Whitfield

Allison C. Whitfield


Allison Cherise Whitfield, author of "the Shelter of the Shade Tree", writes from an inside point of view. Having experienced homelessness in San Jose, CA, Venice Beach, CA, Las Vegas, NV and Atlanta, GA, she is an advocate in the fight against homelessness. At this time, she is living in a homeless shelter in Atlanta, GA.

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