Annie Armstrong Easter Offering
Atlanta shelter offers sanctuary for homeless families
Feb 28, 2006

Reggie Robbins (l), NAMB missionary and pastor at Set Free Memorial Drive Ministries and Sanctuary Shelter in Decatur, Ga., baptizes a new believer. NAMB photo by John Swain

DECATUR, Ga. (NAMB)–Often discouraged and depressed, the two dozen men sitting in the church service reflect the scars, the struggles, the pain of hard lives on Atlanta’s infamous Memorial Drive. To Reginald Robbins, they are nothing less than God’s children, ready to be reclaimed and reborn.

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The men may be drug dealers or addicts, alcoholics, street thugs or just homeless guys down on their luck. What they all have in common is a strong desire to find a better way of living.

And if the men – black, white, Hispanic or any race – have families, their wives and children are equally welcomed into the Set Free Memorial Drive Ministries and Sanctuary Shelter, the inner-city church and homeless facility Robbins has pastored and directed for the past six years.

Supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, Robbins and wife Anna are among the over 5,200 Southern Baptist North American missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories. Robbins is one of eight Southern Baptist missionaries to be highlighted as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 5-12, 2006. The 2006 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $56 million, 100 percent of which is used for missionaries like the Robbins.

Set Free has three distinct ministries: a shelter for homeless families; a ministry to rehabilitate those with substance addictions; and a community outreach ministry – including a food pantry, serving some 1,500 hot meals a week, along with a clothing operation.

Set Free Sanctuary Shelter is the only homeless shelter in the metro Atlanta area that refuses to split up families, who can stay up to three months. To date, the largest family to ever live at the shelter included eight members. Families are provided with hot meals, clean beds, day care for children, counseling, medical assistance, clothing, drug/alcohol addiction treatment, job training and job search support. They also get a strong dose of the Gospel.

“First, we want to keep families together,” Robbins said, “for the sake of the children and for the health of the marriage. Most shelters will immediately split up mom and dad, with smaller children going with mom to one shelter while Dad is hauled off to another. If there’s a teenage son, he’ll be sent along with his dad to the men’s shelter.

“Next, we want to present Christ to the whole family.”

The impact of homelessness on children and teenagers is both touching and difficult, according to Robbins.

“I remember a family with a six-year-old boy. When we showed the little boy where his room would be, he yelled, ‘look mom...look dad...a bed.’ You see, they had been sleeping in a car for two weeks.”

Homelessness is tough on teenagers as well, because of the potential embarrassment. The shame and stigma of being in a shelter would be devastating if the other kids at school found out.

Robbins said homelessness also damages the father’s self-esteem, and he cringes when he hears people say, “Well, if people would just try hard enough to find a job, then they wouldn’t be homeless.”

Reggie Robbins says “good-bye” to a homeless woman, who dropped by the Set Free Memorial Drive Ministries and Sanctuary Shelter in Decatur, Ga., for a hot meal and some new clothes. NAMB photo by John Swain

“We have men and women who come to us and simply say they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said Robbins. “They’re tired of being on the street. They’re tired of waking up in places in which they have no memory of how they got there. They’re tired of hurting their families because of their addictions.

“The homeless come from all walks of life,” he says. “Right now, we have an M.D. – a medical doctor – who was his own best customer. He got strung out on drugs, lost his medical license, and his wife left him.”

Robbins says Set Free’s introduction of structure, strict guidelines and chore duties at the Set Free shelter are key steps to bringing a family back from the edge.

Reggie Robbins has a simple credo for the hundreds of homeless men and women who have wandered off the Atlanta streets and into Set Free Memorial Drive Ministries and Sanctuary Shelter.

“I tell them that once they cross the threshold into this place of ministry, ‘I no longer look at you like you are or like you were, but I look at you with the aspirations and hopes that you will become what God intends for you to be’,” Robbins says. “Some come in here and at first, look real rough, like real hopeless situations. But I try to give everyone the opportunity, the benefit of the doubt. I try to look at them the way God sees them.

“And when they’ve come through our system and go out working again, adding to society, and at the same time, they’re trusting in God and God is still developing their lives... those are the times I just want to shout!”

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