Grant funding used to target poverty

By Joel Hall


Three agencies serving Clayton County have received a financial boost from the federal government to help in the fight against homelessness.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) presented the county with more than $1.6 million in grant funding, which was, in turn, distributed to Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, The Salvation Army, and the Clayton County Community Services Authority, Inc.

County and state officials gathered at the Clayton County Administration Building in Jonesboro on Tuesday morning to distribute the funding - by way of Community Development Block Grant and Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program funds - to the three organizations.

Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity received $885,433, while the Community Services Authority and Salvation Army each received $393,205.

The funding comes as a direct result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, according to county officials.

Pat Hoban-Moore, acting regional director of HUD's Office of Field Policy and Management in Atlanta, said the money would help tackle many local poverty issues.

"It is going to take all of us pulling together to do this important job," Hoban-Moore said. "Government can't do it alone. Communities of faith, nonprofit organizations ... we need the strength, the energy and imagination of everyone here to make these things go. We feel so good at HUD that we can be in partnership with Clayton County."

Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, which received the lion's share of the funding, will use the money to move into a new 25,000-square-foot complex at 9570 Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro. According to Brenda Rayburn, the organization's executive director, the new building will dwarf the organization's current, 3,500-square-foot home at 170 Flint River Road.

Rayburn said the new building will include classrooms for homeowner-education instruction, a "ReStore" from which Habitat for Humanity employees will be able to sell used and donated home and building items to benefit the organization, and an indoor work space, which will allow volunteers to build walls and other housing components in a contained environment.

She said the work space will help the organization better coordinate volunteer efforts.

"There are a lot of people who would like to come and volunteer, but can't necessarily do it on the days that we've got. We'll be more accurate with what we are doing and a lot more flexible," she said. "What we've found is that the Habitat affiliates that are able to do this [build indoors], they make fewer mistakes, the walls are a lot more likely to be accurate, and there is a lot less waste associated with it."

Rayburn said the new site is still under construction and that she hopes to able to relocate by the year's end.

Charles W. Grant, executive director of the Community Services Authority, said the large donation from HUD will buttress many of the authority's current programs, such as food and energy assistance. He said the funds will also allow the authority to partner with other local agencies in sponsoring programs aimed at job development and job retention for low-income residents.

"It's pretty huge for us," Grant said. "What it does for us is that it links some of our programs together... We need to not only do job development, but job retention as well. It [the funding] gives us an opportunity to expand on some of the services we offer our low-income clients."

Maj. James K. Seiler, Atlanta-area commander of The Salvation Army, accepted the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program funds on behalf of the group's Jonesboro office. He said the money would help the organization continue to offer "a variety of homeless prevention programs for its impoverished and at-risk residents.

"In each community where we are located, The Salvation Army works to identify and address the spiritual, economic, emotional, and physical, unmet needs of every person who comes to us for help," Seiler said. "Last year alone, The Salvation Army in Clayton County assisted 6,490 individuals with emergency groceries, housing, clothing, and rental- and utility-assistance grants. We are extremely grateful to the Clayton County government for entrusting us with the necessary stimulus funding to quickly assist at-risk households."

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said about 30 part-time jobs would be created with the funding. He said the money "represents a start for us."

"These funds are sorely needed for this county," Bell said. "With the leadership we currently have here in the county ... the three organizations we have here today, and many others, this is just a start of what is expected to come."