Homeless women find a fresh start

MY SISTER’S PLACE
What: Homeless shelter for women and mothers with children
Where: 2480 Martin Luther King Blvd., Unit 4, Gainesville
More info: Call 770-532-5111 to reach the office.
Call 770-503-1181 for the shelter.

Story by Amber Tyner Photos by Scott Rogers

With the start of a new year, it’s time for a new beginning. Many people have already adopted resolutions to better their lives in the coming months, and for women in need, one organization in Northeast Georgia can help ensure those goals are met. My Sister’s Place, a nonprofit located in Gainesville, offers shelter and assistance for homeless women and mothers with children. “It provides a place where women who are feeling broken, who are lost can go to receive hope,” said Tawana Finch, shelter manager.

The organization is more than just an overnight or emergency shelter. Brandee Thomas, executive director, said it’s a 90-day program that helps the women “overcome the obstacles that led to them being homeless.” “Our mission is to be a haven for a fresh start,” Thomas said. “Whatever the ladies need for that fresh start, we want to meet them at that level and help them to build from there. For each resident, we come up with a case plan to help them be their best selves.”

She shared the success story of Kay, a woman who recently stayed at the shelter with her 11-year-old son. “Before coming to us, (Kay) had been living in an extended-stay for two years with her son,” Thomas said. “She was working every day, but she just could not get enough money to be able to pay for their weekly hotel bill plus save for an apartment. So for two years, that was their life — sharing one hotel room.” Eventually, Kay missed one too many days of work because she was sick. She was unable to continue paying the hotel bill, so she sought refuge for her family at My Sister’s Place. “They moved in, she started building up her savings and she was ready to find them an apartment,” Thomas said. “In 90 days, she was able to do something she hadn’t been able to do on her own for two years.”

Thomas said the organization was able to help Kay and her son through the “Home for Good” program that launched this year thanks to a grant from United Way of Hall County. “For those individuals who successfully complete our program, we are able to provide financial support and case manage for them for the next 12 months,” she said about the grant. “We were actually able to help (Kay) through the program and help them with a deposit for their apartment so she did not have to deplete her savings.” Once the family secured an apartment, Kay’s son was able to get a special surprise. “Her son always kept talking about wanting a sleepover,” Thomas said. “The Friday they moved out, he got to have the sleepover he had been talking about for years and years. It just really touches your heart to be able to play a small role in that.”

My Sister’s Place Executive Director Brandee Thomas checks the women’s shelter food pantry of donated food items.

She said the shelter helps about 100 women in situations like this every year, although reaching a number is not the organization’s goal. “We’re never focused on the quantity as much as the quality of service that we’re able to provide for our ladies,” she said. “If they’re working the program, we want to support them for as long as they need.” She said the organization has been providing help since 2000 thanks to founder Marty Owens. “Marty started the organization officially in 2000, but prior to that, she was already in a position of helping homeless families and individuals in Gainesville anyway,” Thomas said.

Owens said she launched My Sister’s Place after realizing an unmet need in the community. “There was a shelter for domestic violence, but there was nothing for just homeless women,” she said. “God laid it on my heart that this was something that I could do with his help.” Now almost 20 years later, the organization still offers assistance not only through the shelter but also its 90-day program, which includes life skills classes and help with money management. “We like to have a few classes each month, and they cover topics from nutrition to wellness, financial literacy, communication skills (and) job search skills,” Thomas said. “Once they do have income coming in, each of our residents is required to put a percentage of their earnings into a savings with us. When they move out, they get that entire percentage back so they’re able to pay for deposits and all those little things that add up once you’re ready to reestablish yourself.”

Finch said My Sister’s Place plans to continue these activities and its mission in the years to come. “Maybe in the future, if it’s in God’s plans, expansion of another shelter or even transitional housing may come about,” she said. “But right now, it’s really just reaching as many women as possible and helping as many women as possible.”

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