by Robin Kemp

Clayton County’s pop-up warming center at Soy Events in the Shops of Tara at 6570 Tara Boulevard will be open through at least January 30, according to a county press release.

The warming center may be the first of its kind in the county. District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis said he was “tired of talking people” and began calling event centers around the county, looking for a space to rent to keep people warm for a night or two.

“Those who talk the most, do the least,” Davis said.

He found a like-minded person in Lula Gillespie or “Miss G,” the owner of Soy Events, who also works at Children’s Hospital. The Clayton Crescent spoke with her brother, who was mopping the floor Monday morning. “I know that they was looking for different facilities and everyone was saying that they had, you know, engagements and this and that and turning them down,” he said.

Usually, they don’t answer the phone, he said, “but after she received the phone call, they was making preparations to come over in about an hour and a half, so we got with our staff. You see how good it is? I’ll cut the lights on so you can see.”

No one would have known that several people had spent the night there. The floor was spotless and the scent of cleaning supplies hung in the air. Chairs were lined up precisely. The food and supplies were stowed neatly under a long table.

“We’re in the community, so we try to always when we have events here, we always accommodate people,” he added. “We give the food that we have to like the homeless people or whoever’s hungry, instead of just throwing it away….That’s the only way we can continue getting favor from God.”

Davis rented the hall using his own money and asked Gillespie to leave up the balloons from a previous event.

“Commissioner Davis reached out to me,” she said. “They had contacted some other facilities, they either couldn’t get them or they wasn’t in correspondence with opening their doors. He reached out to me and I was very open to it, because that’s the type of person I am, I have a heart for helping people, and so we put it all together within an hour and a half. People were just pouring in here. My team, we got here and whatever we could do to support, that’s what we did. Our security team stayed here overnight. They’ve been here every night, making sure that things are taken care of, the place is sanitized, getting the young ladies and gentlemen what they need. Just being correspondent and transparent, you know, with the whole situation.”

Between 13 and 20 people used the warming center the first weekend it was open.

“And every night it’s a different number,” she said, nodding to the people seated around the hall. “See now, this is a new gentleman. This family just came in, though some of them are outside. This is a new one tonight, and I think his sister was with him, his daughter, somebody, yeah.”

Over the past week, community members have turned up with food, cots, blankets, and company for the people who have sought a place to get out of the cold. Davis’ wife, a dentist, donated toothpaste and toothbrushes. State Rep. Sandra Scott, who collects and distributes feminine hygiene supplies, dropped some off for the appreciative women at the shelter. Jonesboro City Councilmembers Dr. Donya Sartor, Pat Sebo, and Tracey Messick each took turns cooking breakfast. Also volunteering for shifts were Antonio Cummings, Drew Andrews, Derwin Davis, Dee Haney, Regina Deloach, and Attania Jean-Funny.

State lawmakers have taken note of the warming center, too.

State Representatives Rhonda Burnough (D-Riverdale), Sandra Scott (D-Rex) and Kim Schofield (D-Atlanta) commend the opening of a temporary warming center for unsheltered, homeless residents in Clayton County.

Scott (D-76, Rex) said, “I want to personally thank the organizers, Commissioner Davis and his family for a job well done. This brutal cold period has reminded me of my time spent in Germany and Korea. I want to thank everyone that dropped off hot meals, socks, toiletries, clothes and blankets, especially the owners of Soy Events and Entertainers for allowing the county to use your facilities. Together we can do great things. We must learn how to work together more to move Clayton County forward.”

Rep. Rhonda Burnough (D-77, Riverdale) said, “Kudos to Clayton County residents for stepping up to assist Commissioner DeMont Davis’ vision for a warming center in our county for the homeless. We did not have a place for them to go until he and his wife rented out a venue and invited them in to be fed and have a warm place to rest. When the word got out, our residents donated money, food, blankets and time. With the help of county residents, this shelter has been able to remain open for two days a week to provide warm shelter and meals to those in need.”

Rep. Kim Schofield (D-60, Atlanta), who just took part in the Atlanta Continuum-of-Care (CoC) 2022 “Point in Time Count” survey of homeless people, added, “The value and love for community was expressed by Clayton County residents and Commissioner Davis on this joint effort to open a warming center. Thank you, Clayton County for providing support to this most vulnerable population.”

As of Thursday morning, the warming center needed food and volunteers. It already has plenty of blankets and face masks.

More to come.

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