Homelessness in Atlanta is a growing epidemic, and the suburbs are not immune. Of the communities surrounding the city of Atlanta, Gwinnett County has the third largest homeless population, with nearly 800 reported “homeless persons” in 2015.

Homelessness is detrimental for countless reasons, but one reason, in particular, is burdening Gwinnett County’s communities. The desperation caused by homelessness leads many victims into compromising situations, including sex trafficking. In one study, 64% of respondents who were victims of sex trafficking said that they were homeless at the time of their exploitation.

Pat McDonough and Denise Townsend

Pat McDonough and Denise Townsend at a HomeFirst event in Gwinnett County.

Pat McDonough of Andersen, Tate & Carr lives in Gwinnett County and has dedicated much of his professional career to the fight to eradicate homelessness in Atlanta. Once a district attorney for the state of Georgia, McDonough helped spearhead the United Way’s Gwinnett Reentry Intervention Program (GRIP), an initiative to provide people coming out of incarceration with housing, healthcare, employment assistance, and more. Without the burden of these basic needs, former inmates are less likely to fall back into the way of life that leads to crime.

McDonough also serves as a board member of the United Way of Atlanta. Here, he met two community members who were just as passionate about fighting homelessness: United Way’s regional director, Denise Townsend, and the director of the HomeFirst Gwinnett initiative, Matthew Elder.

HomeFirst initiative is a collaboration between the United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness, Partners for HOME, and Invest Atlanta. The program began in July 2018 and has already raised over $6.5 million to help eradicate homelessness in Gwinnett County. Instead of simply starting individual programs to help homeless individuals, the initiative is determined to completely change the system as a whole. It seeks to create an ecosystem of resources where the homeless population can have all of their needs met and get back on their feet.

McDonough was drawn to the mission of this organization and now serves as one of its biggest community supporters. His extensive connections in Gwinnett County at state and local level have allowed him to articulate the benefits of HomeFirst to influential community stakeholders.

To McDonough, it’s not enough to just build a network of individuals. The most important element of creating change in our community is drawing together leaders who can make a change for Gwinnett County and can sustainably see this initiative through.

“Pat does not take no for an answer,” says Charlotte Nash, Chairman of the Gwinnett County Commission. “He’s totally persistent and persuasive. He’s that way because of how much he loves his community, and he’s passionate about the work we’re doing here for Gwinnett County.”

To learn more about HomeFirst and make a donation, please visit: https://www.unitedwayatlanta.org/homefirst-gwinnett-donation/