For the last 47 years, Hosea Helps has been an institution in the community that exists to serve Atlantans in need.
Under the direction of Elisabeth Williams-Omilami, the organization expanded to provide more services and facilitate the needs of more people in need than just the homeless.
Williams-Omilami is now working to bring Hosea Helps into its next chapter, which involves inhabiting a 28,000 square-foot facility, right off of Cleveland Avenue.
Finding Hosea Helps a permanent home is just another one of the big initiatives that Williams-Omilami has had to take on since her father, Hosea Willaims, passed in 2000.
A treasured Civil Rights Activist, former Atlanta City Councilmember, and Dekalb County Commissioner, Williams founded the organization in 1971 as Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless.
Under Williams’ guidance, the organization garnered a reputation for hosting feedings for Atlanta’s homeless, also providing clothing, haircuts, and a few other services to those in need during select times of the year—namely during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Marthin Luther King Jr. Day, and Easter Sunday.
By that time he established Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, Willams had secured his place in history as an iconic Civil Rights leader.
Williams was one of the leaders for the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, also known as Bloody Sunday. He was also responsible for numerous strikes and protests supporting black workers. Not to mention, he confronted the Ku Klux Klan during a protest against racism in Forsyth County, Georgia, which was once an all-white county.
“He would (lead) movements throughout the South,” Williams-Omilami said. “When I say movements, I mean someone calling on the phone saying, ‘My son just got beat half-to-death by some cops. I need you to come to Albany, Georgia, and do something about it.’”
After her father’s passing, Williams-Omilami not only raised the organization’s budget from $300,000 to $2 million but also pushed it towards providing services 365 days a year and expanding the number of services that Hosea Helps offers.
“He really only focused on this human service work two or three months out of the year,” Williams-Omilami said.
“When he passed in 2000, it was the goal of me and my husband to make this a year-round, institutionalized organization, so that we become something that is present in the community every day, all year long.”
Last year, Hosea Helps was able to raise more than $1 million towards purchasing and renovating the building. However, the organization is still short $300,000, which will cover the final expenses that will allow it to start using the facility.
The move was initiated by the purchase of Hosea Help’s former headquarters, which caused the organization to be displaced.
“We were at 1035 Donnelly Ave., where he had been for 26 years,” Williams-Omilami said. “When the whole westside development concept was birthed, which had been in planning for years, our building was bought out from under us for $600,000 cash.”
With only a few months notice, Hosea Helps ultimately moved into three different warehouses at the end of 2017; and purchased its new facility in September 2017.
“We are now located, temporarily, at 2015 Wendell Drive, off of Fulton Industrial, as well as down the street, and at Hosea House which is at 8 East Lake Drive,” Williams-Omilami said.
With the Cleveland Avenue location still under renovation, Williams-Omilami said that once the money is raised, there will still be six to eight weeks before Hosea Helps can fully inhabit the building.
However, Williams-Omilami said she knows that she cannot rest until Hosea Helps has raised the money that it needs to complete the renovations on its building.
Once that happens, she said the organization will be able to finally have a permanent base of operations and a facility where the community can gather.
“When we get into that building, I’m telling you we’re going to be serving on steroids because we will serve 30-40 percent more people than we served in 2018,” Williams-Omilami said.
To reflect all of the progress that the organization had made since Williams-Omilami took over, Hosea Feed the Hungry changed its name to Hosea Helps in 2017.
“I think that what we have developed into an organization that meets the basic needs of the working poor so that they can money left over at the end of the month to pay their bills,” Williams-Omilami said.
“We used to be primarily a homeless services organization. That has changed as the face of homelessness has changed from males to women, and then they started bringing their children. We started seeing whole homeless families at our events.”
According to Williams-Omilami, Hosea Helps now employs 17 full-time staff members who, as of right now, are primarily responsible for all of the services that the organization provides to the thousands of people it services in the community.
“Our programs include rent assistance, utility assistance, mental health evaluations through our partners, barriers and needs assessments, access to government benefits, employment assistance and referrals, and housing stabilization services,” Williams-Omilami said. “We have over 60 organizations that we serve also. These are organizations that may have transitional housing or they do programs on their own where people have supportive housing.”
“If someone shows up at our office, first they get an assessment by the case manager,” Williams-Omilami. “So, what is it you’re here for? Are you here for rent assistance, utility assistance, job placement? Do you need job readiness counseling to get ready for an interview? Do you need housing? Are you employed or unemployed? What is your situation?”
Over the years, she’s noticed that the people who they are servicing are no longer just the homeless but also working people who are struggling to meet their basic needs.
“I’m seeing these people, who I thought had good jobs, ” Williams-Omilami said. “Coming to me saying, ‘my son got put in prison, I had to use the money for that. I missed two months of my mortgage and they’re coming after me.’”
“Those are the people that we’re seeing now. The people on that lower level of the middle class who are struggling.”
Williams-Omilami refers to these people as the “working poor,” which basically refers to people who are working paycheck-to-paycheck.
Williams-Omilami’s definition is in-line with the U.S. Bureau of LaborStatistics which categorizes people who work 27 or more hours a week and live below the poverty line as the “working poor.”
According to the U.S. census, approximately 13 percent of America’s population is considered apart of the “working poor,” which is approximately 42 million people.
Ironically, Hosea Helps has been able to maintain its mission even during its crisis of displacement. In some cases, Williams-Omilami said the organization was able to increase productivity due to the circumstances and reevaluate how its presence can change but still be effective.
“We have never stopped serving the people,” Williams-Omilami said. “Because we were displaced from our building, we had to figure out how do we serve the people without a building. Here we are homeless, so how do we serve the people.”
For Williams-Omilami, her mission was to not just feed people, but also create stabilization within families so that it would spread throughout the community. As a result, serving people became a part of her life instead of occupation or career.
“My husband and I have been doing this for over 40 years, so we have become this ministry. Williams-Omilami said.”
Out of this turmoil that came with moving and finding a new location, “Hosea On The Move” was birthed.
“‘Hosea On The Move’ is a program that goes into apartment complexes that are in need, that are pockets of poverty, and provides services,” Williams-Omilami said.
“We provide the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. We provide financial literacy. You can sign up for Medicare, Medicaid, and PeachCare. We provide food of course, as well as clothing, and school supplies for kids.”
Williams-Omilami continues, “We’ll pull up in that apartment complex with two 24-foot box trucks and three case manager in their own vehicles, at nine or ten in the morning. We just stay out in that parking lot in that apartment complex all day. We serve between 350 to 400 families a day that way.”
According to Hosea Help’s 2018 Human Service Report, “Hosea On The Move” was able to provide services to 9,481 individuals. Williams-Omilami says that due to the increase in productivity through “Hosea Helps,” the organization has had it’s best year ever during this period of displacement.
As Williams-Omilami looks forward to ushering Hosea Helps into this next chapter, she also recognized that she’s working towards closing a chapter also. In a couple of years, she will step down to allow her son, Anodele, to take the reigns.
“He’s in the plan for me to pass this on to him in two to three years,” Williams-Omilami said. “I want the organization to be in our building. I want him to have a development director.”
“Once that happens, I’ll be able to do more advocacy. I’ll be down at state legislature. I’ll be over at City Hall. I’ll be able to speak to Congress in Washington.”