A Bigger Vision for Athens

By J MONSON

Contributing Writer

Downtown Athens is a busting and joyous scene on the weekends.  Live music, plenty of people and celebration can be found all around. But sometimes the night owls and college students will catch a glimpse of a truly sobering reality: the sight of a homeless man or woman standing in a closed shop doorway or sitting cross-legged on the pavement.   

Where do these people who have fallen upon unfortunate times go when they leave the square? One place that accepts the homeless population of Athens-Clarke County is the Bigger Vision shelter. 

One unique aspect of Bigger Vision, which makes it stand out from other shelters around Athens, is that it is run purely off of private donations. The shelter does not use one cent of a taxpayer’s dollars. This has been a tradition of Bigger Vision, explains Bigger Vision Executive Director Ed Moore. Moore said, “Funding is all donation based, it allows us to provide shelter for individuals without having to ask too many questions. When you receive certain kinds of funds from the government, they require the homeless to provide certain kinds of additional information.

“As a result of this additional information, sometimes other shelters are forced to turn away homeless people who might be abusing substances or don’t have appropriate documentation.

The Bigger Vision shelter has operated in Athens since 1998. The shelter did not have a permanent base of operation until 2010; this will be their third season of operations in their relatively new location on North Avenue. The shelter is considered an emergency winter shelter, so it is only open from mid, October until the middle of April. Although the shelter does not officially open their overnight services until October, they do provide day services so that homeless people can wash their clothes and take showers. The shelter complex has 35 beds, and they usually keep a waiting list just in case someone doesn’t show up. There is a donated dinner served every evening and a small breakfast offered in the morning.

Moore took charge of operations at the shelter this year. Moore has over eight years experience working intimately with homeless communities in both Athens and Savannah. His affiliation with Bigger Vision began in 2006. He was the chairperson of the Northeast Georgia Homeless Coalition for four years. He has worked with the state government assisting homeless people with mental illnesses.

Moore said that it takes more than 500 volunteers to help Bigger Vision operate during the winter months.  Potential volunteers are welcome to sign up at the website biggervisionshelter.org.