FOREST PARK — Tommy Holland Hall at Calvary Refuge Center has been in operation only three weeks, and already it has housed 44 adults and children who would otherwise have nowhere else to go.
The newly constructed building is an extension of Calvary’s existing programs, which for the last three decades have offered emergency shelter and short-term housing for the homeless in Clayton County and greater Atlanta. It allows the shelter to now take in families with teenage boys ages 11 to 17 and single fathers with children.
Calvary is one of the few organizations in the area to serve those families, who are often turned away from emergency shelter.
“They were sleeping in their cars,” said Tawana Tarno, Calvary Refuge Center’s executive director. To retain federal funding, shelters are required to separate boys over the age of 11 from other families and single women. Tarno said she’s known a family of eight forced to sleep in one car, rather than be split up or leave a child alone outside all night.
Before Holland Hall was completed, Calvary Refuge Center worked hard to avoid that reality.
“You have to have a door for that 11- to 17-year-old, that’s law, Tarno said. “We did have four doors, four rooms, but it was very uncomfortable for that young man.”
Families with older boys were placed in one of four small rooms with doors in the women’s otherwise open dormitory, but it proved limited and complicated. Sometimes, families couldn’t all fit inside one room, each holding just four beds. The teenage boys would require staff supervision to leave their rooms, making trips to the bathroom especially tedious.
Now, those families are able to stay together in one of the eight large rooms at Holland Hall. The building can accommodate as many as eight in one family room, with 44 total bed capacity.
“I did not think we would be using the large family rooms as much as we are,” Tarno said, noting that at least one of the rooms of eight bunks has been in use since July 11. “There’s nowhere else, no one else accommodates that large family. That’s the issue.”
Tommy Holland Hall, named for one of the center’s long-serving board members, was built in partnership with the city of Forest Park. When the city began planning the purchase of the Fort Gillem property in 2008, homelessness programs were considered in its redevelopment, as part of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provision. The center brokered a deal with the city and the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Redevelopment Authority to help them build a new facility on its existing property on Thurmond Road.
Nine years later, the building was completed, coming in at a construction cost of about $900,000. Tarno credits Fred Bryant, executive director of the redevelopment authority, for his help in securing funding for the project. The center began accommodating families at Holland Hall on July 10.
“Now we serve birth to death. There’s no age we don’t take care of,” Tarno said. “I think that’s a great thing.”
The new building is outfitted with office and reception space, men’s and women’s bathrooms, shower areas, a locked storage area for families’ belongings and a multi-purpose room. Tarno would like to see the multi-purpose space eventually become a “one-stop shop” for shelter clients to meet with job recruiters and become familiar with other county and community resources.
In addition to funding from the city of Forest Park, Holland Hall has benefited from about $30,000 in community donations. The funds have helped to purchase equipment and other needs such as bunk beds, blankets and towels.
At both of Calvary’s emergency shelter buildings, families can check in at 5:45 p.m. each night and check out at 5:45 a.m. the next morning. They are served dinner and breakfast in a dining hall and sent out each day with a sack lunch. Emergency shelter clients are permitted to stay at the center for 21 consecutive nights, during which time they meet with a case manager and are connected to other resources that can offer help.
Tarno said she likes to remind those at the shelter of a certain quote she keeps displayed at the front desk: “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”
“That’s what we do here at Calvary, make every day count,” she said. Tarno believes in the power of prayer, and she also believes in “putting your feet to the ground.”
Success takes both faith and hard work, she said. Both have contributed to the Calvary Refuge Center’s longevity in Clayton County. Tarno said she’s proud to expand the shelter’s services with the addition of Holland Hall, and for the organization to remain debt-free in the process thanks to donors, local partners and federal funding sources.
Still, she said, they can always use a few extra hands.
Calvary Refuge Center is continuously taking donations and welcoming volunteers to partner in its mission. For more information on how to help, visit calvaryrefuge.org.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article erroneously explained that funding for Holland Hall was provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was provided by the city of Forest Park, which offered it to Calvary Refuge Center due to a special HUD provision for homelessness programs regarding the close and sale of military bases.