How did you sleep last night? Was your air-conditioning too cold? Maybe you slept well; your pillow was just right and your bed was comfy. That is not the case for many of the homeless people living on the streets of downtown Atlanta. Approximately 2,100 people in greater Atlanta – 21 percent of them military veterans – are homeless each year.

On the morning of Aug. 19, five Coca-Cola Ambassadors volunteered with Street-To-Home outreach, a program sponsored by United Way of Greater Atlanta,and other partners, including The Regional Commission on Homelessness to engage homeless individuals and offer them a chance to end their homelessness. The mission: change the lives of people who may never enjoy a good night’s sleep otherwise.

The volunteer group encountered people gathered on the sidewalks, sleeping on cardboard boxes. Six men and two women accepted assistance, boarded the Gateway bus and began their Street-to-Home journey. Their trust and courage led to more than a warm bed – it meant support. This was the first step in their journey toward transitional housing and intense, hands-on case management.

Coca-Cola Ambassador Testimonies

“My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., so I could get to the city on time to volunteer,” said Major Rick Galeano, who works at Coca-Cola in Atlanta as a U.S. Army Training with Industry fellow. “We were a team of 30-plus people that wanted to assist. Most of us didn't know what to expect and we were told that it was going to “get real very quickly” as we headed out to offer assistance. And it did."

“Every day we drive to work, walk our dogs, run our routes past Atlanta's homeless, but do we ever really see them? Today, I did,” said Lauren Thompson, director of brand communications, Coca-Cola North America. “I saw raw humanity by the people who volunteered and the eight men and women who came with us and decided to start over again.”

“Homelessness does not define a person; it’s a situation they are in,” said Yunice Emir, senior manager of community relations, Coca-Cola North America. “Changing this situation starts with awareness and taking action. You walk away from this experience realizing that your problems probably aren’t as bad as the people you pass to and from work – people who call the streets ‘home’. Giving back, supporting, or even talking to people on the streets and treating them with dignity and respect can be extremely fulfilling and even life-changing.”

“Today’s experience was a great example of the partnership between Coca-Cola and United Way,” said Saleema Board, supply chain planner. “I am grateful to work for a company that is concerned about the needs of the community. Volunteering for the first time with the Street-to-Home Outreach Program has been so eye-opening. To witness action towards ending homelessness was amazing!”

About Street-To-Home Outreach Program

Seventy-five percent of the people who accept Street-To-Home assistance will stay off the streets of Atlanta, based on data from previous work. United Way works with different agencies to provide homeless people not only a place to sleep, but also support. Once in the program, these individuals are assessed by case workers to identify their personal needs. For some, it may be job training. For others, it could be drug rehabilitation. For many, it will be both.

“We don’t want to manage homelessness, we want to end homelessness,” said Vanna Walker, Project Director of Supportive Services for Veteran Families at United Way of Greater Atlanta.

About Peers Reaching Out Team (PRO)

Street-to-Home program has created a model to engage the homeless community by using previously homeless individuals to build relationships. “Peers Reaching Out” is a group of people who have transitioned out of homelessness themselves and now want to help others who are facing the same struggle.

“Thirty people changed eight people’s lives today,” said outreach lead Kinte’ Rollins after the Aug. 19 early-morning outreach. “Just think about how many people’s lives could be changed if we had more volunteers.”