Rebecca’s Tent shelter for women raising funds to cover pandemic innovationPhoto provided by Rebecca’s Tent
By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor
Atlanta, GA — The COVID-19 pandemic hit just as one cold-weather shelter in DeKalb County was wrapping up its season, triggering innovation during a time of desperation. Instead of reducing access to the unsheltered population, Rebecca’s Tent increased services by partnering with The Temple synagogue in midtown Atlanta.
For 37 years, Rebecca’s Tent has been a safe haven for 1,300 women. Others serve families or survivors of domestic violence, but Rebecca’s Tent is an emergency shelter that takes in women and provides life skills training, job resources and social services.
In March 2020, while Atlantans were being told to isolate at home, unsheltered women were displaced – neither able to seek daytime shelter at coffee shops or libraries as they had before, nor comfortable being closed in with strangers.
“If someone tells you to shelter at home and you don’t have a home, then what do you do?” said Gillian Gansler, board chair of Rebecca’s Tent.
As shelters reduced capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, Rebecca’s Tent and Zaban Paradies Center joined forces to open a daytime program to provide access to computers, showers, counseling, job training and meals four days a week. Located at The Temple on Peachtree Street, services were offered to couples, women and families with children who were experiencing homelessness or financially vulnerable.
At Rebecca’s Tent, COVID-19 protocols still include wearing masks, social distancing, temperature checks and deep cleaning facilities. Rebecca’s Tent installed an air circulating system, added dividers between beds, and asked volunteers to pre-package individual meals.
Residents and staff at Rebecca’s Tent are required to receive a flu shot in winter months, but COVID-19 vaccines are not required at this time. There’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy among the homeless population, Gansler said.
“We absolutely believe it’s important to get the vaccine because it’s the way out of this craziness. It’s a way that we can protect the residents,” she said.
According to Tasho Wesley, executive director of Rebecca’s Tent, 2020 was a crucial time to expand services to women. Safety was vital during a time when 500 women a night in metro Atlanta needed shelter. Around 400 volunteers, most from the Jewish community, kept the operation going.
Rebecca’s Tent continued fundraising throughout the pandemic, while receiving grants and in-kind donations. The shelter’s annual fundraiser is usually held at Horizon Theatre, but the organization switched to an online fundraiser for 2021 out of caution. Their operating budget is $100,000 per year.
“We still have huge financial needs. And this year they’re even greater because of COVID,” said Gansler.
On June 17 at 7:30 p.m., Rebecca’s Tent will hold a virtual fundraiser. Attendees will hear from past and present clients of the organization to show homelessness is a non-defining, circumstantial state. A virtual panel discussion will feature experts Barbara Gibson, Women’s Resource Center; Terri D. Lewinson, Georgia State University, Cathryn Marchman, Partners for HOME; and Linda Grabbe, Emory University.
“The people on the panel are incredibly familiar with how you become somebody that doesn’t have a home, that is living on the streets or living in their car,” said Gansler. “Homelessness is a nationwide problem, so we want to talk about the bigger issues.”
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