Love Beyond Walls is a College Park based organization with the mission to eliminate the stigma around homelessness and provide resources to the homeless community, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic. Terence Lester started Love Beyond Walls in 2013, following his own triumph over homelessness, and wants to raise awareness, empathy and understanding for the impoverished – in Atlanta and across the nation.
Q: Can you tell us more about Love Beyond Wall’s history and current mission?
Love Beyond Walls began with a vision to create an ecosystem of relational capital for the homeless – something we establish through relationships, connection and bringing people together to build compassion for everyone around us. In 2013, I decided to make myself homeless for a month to truly know what it was like to be hungry, beg for medication money on the streets, live under bridges and understand what it meant to be homeless from day-to-day. I lived in shelters – and grasped what it was like to be stereotyped as a homeless individual – with the ultimate goal of eliminating the stigma around homelessness.
Months later, Love Beyond Walls moved into a center in College Park, focusing on reunification – a low barrier way to get individuals off the streets. We placed an emphasis on reuniting the homeless with their family members, putting them back in touch and often used social media to tell their stories. We began offering various services to Atlanta’s homeless community – including makeovers to provide new clothing and grooming services, helping individuals receive ID cards to assist with housing and banking, teaching folks new skills and creating a platform for homeless people to express themselves through art. Over time, we converted units to makeshift shelters and created a technology hub in College Park, allowing for easy technology access to help with job searching. Love Beyond Walls has also expanded to help families fleeing from domestic violence and has partnered with local schools to provide access to washing machines, clothing closets and more. We believe in the power of proximity – and want to have partners who understand the context of what community means to us.
Q: How did you become so passionate about homelessness?
I really understood what it was like to feel unseen in my personal life. When I was a teenager, I experienced temporary homelessness and would sometimes fall asleep in parks or jump couch to couch. I didn’t know if I’d ever have the resources to overcome my situation but luckily had a mentor who spoke into my life and encouraged me to keep pushing. They always told me I would be able to use my experiences to help others one day, and after overcoming my situation and receiving several degrees years later, I felt the burden to support the homeless and keep the issue at the forefront - some say to provide a voice to the voiceless, but in my opinion, no one is voiceless. Some voices are silenced, and we work to advocate for those individuals.
Q: As an organization, what are some challenges you’ve faced through the pandemic? How have you overcome them?
When COVID-19 began popping up in our community, we wanted to pivot and show up for the homeless as much as possible. At the time, the homeless population was scared to contract the virus because they didn’t have a place to wash their hands, as many businesses were shutting their doors and preparing for lockdown, and they’ve always experienced problems with social distancing because there are so many individuals seeking food and shelter from the same places. Love Beyond Walls decided to distribute portable hand washing stations, providing soap and water to protect themselves against the virus. We partnered with more than 60 organizations - including Porsche, Southwest Airlines, the NFL Foundation and more - to provide sanitation stations to homeless people across the nation. We expanded partnerships to schools, as well, to supply sanitation stations to children who take public transportation and live in really dense areas.
The pandemic made a lot of people realize how fragile life is and how insecure it can be at times, too. Our mission is to focus on individuals who have always been disadvantaged, and our story began circulating more as the pandemic went on. People in the community began resonating with our mission, and after realizing an entire population was left out, we began to see more folks wanting to help protect the most vulnerable populations. We’ve seen a lot of growth in our organization, excitement about the cause and eagerness to volunteer as the pandemic continues.
Q: How can the community engage with Love Beyond Walls?
We’re open for volunteers to assist with various needs in our organization, and of course monetary donations are always appreciated. Our community is very tight-knit, and our staff is proactive in checking on homeless individuals in our community, so we’ve tried to schedule safe days of volunteering throughout the pandemic.
If community members are looking to provide donations to Love Beyond Walls, we’re currently looking for sleeping bags, hygiene products and food to distribute to our community through the colder months.