A History Steeped in Community Support
Our history begins with Atlanta-based Trinity United Methodist Church (Trinity UMC) in downtown Atlanta in 1981. In response to the growing needs of people experiencing homelessness,Trinity UMC opened their basement as an emergency night shelter. Over time, this community outreach expanded to provide food and subsequently became a Sunday soup kitchen.
Seven short years after its start, the shelter and kitchen became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Trinity Community Ministries, Inc. During these years, the small staff was supplemented by hundreds of volunteers representing dozens of outlying churches all united to keep the shelter and soup kitchen running. This large, vibrant volunteer base was, from the onset, an integral part of the newly formed ministry and remains a cornerstone to this day.
The emergency shelter evolved to a transitional shelter for 10 men and was given the name Trinity House. Also in 1991, Trinity House welcomed its first Program Director, Leonard (“MZee”) Tate. Mzee (Swahili for ‘wise man’) brought a unique and culturally significant brand of tough love to the program, which exists still today. “A Tough Program for Tough Times” became the mantra, and an environment of discipline and love was soon formed.
Trinity Community Ministries leased the former Trinity UMC parsonage to begin their second program – Trinity Lodge – an aftercare facility for up to four graduates of the Trinity House program. A third program, The Living Room, a housing referral program dedicated to helping homeless people with HIV/AIDS, also began in 1995 and was a central place for the city. The program was so successful that four years later it spun-off to become a separate nonprofit that today is one of the most important collaborative partners to the ministry.
In the year 1999, Trinity Community Ministries joined with a partnership of homeless providers in the city of Atlanta to create its fourth program, the PACER (Pre-addiction Counseling, Education, and Referral) at the ROC (Resource Opportunity Center). This was a collaborative program where professional staff could meet with homeless clients seeking help for their addiction. Some of the PACER staff included alumni of Trinity House, who gave back to the community by helping clients obtain required IDs, medical tests, assess their substance abuse history, and refer them to an appropriate detoxification treatment program. When PACER planned to move with the other ROC services to the 24/7 Gateway in 2005, Trinity Community Ministries ceased involvement with the program to allow concentration on their flagship program, Trinity House. They set a goal for the program to triple in size.
With the new goal set, Trinity Community Ministries began searching for an establishment site. Not long after, a board member discovered that Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church in the Sweet Auburn district of Atlanta, had recently purchased the then vacant Hanley Bell Street Funeral Home with the intent to “serve and preserve our surrounding urban community.”
The two organizations recognized the “fit” between them and in 2004, supporters of Trinity Community Ministries and members of both Big Bethel AME and Trinity UMC came together to raise $3-$4M to renovate the Hanley building into a 36-bed residential recovery program based on the traditional “therapeutic community” model.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Sweet Auburn district in Atlanta where the Trinity House-Big Bethel program exists has seen rapid growth in the past years, and has become a destination for native Atlantans and tourists alike. With the explosive expansion of GSU and the addition of the Atlanta Streetcar, which makes a stop at the Sweet Auburn market – a stone’s throw away from our building – we are seeing a revitalization outside of our walls that is almost as powerful as what happens inside our walls.
The Trinity House-Big Bethel program has touched the lives of many men, delivering the support and resources required to successfully return to their families, their community, and, ultimately, to a better life.
More recently, as the number of military veterans who are homeless and struggling with addiction has increased, Trinity Community Ministries launched Trinity Living, a permanent supportive housing program that helps men who have served our country, but now are homeless and find themselves in need of service from others.
Just as it was from the beginning, today, with the help of thousands of volunteers, dozens of churches, corporate supporters, and other collaborative organizations throughout Atlanta, Trinity Community Ministries provides essential tools and necessary support to promote sustainable independence among men who were homeless and often struggling with addiction or other disabilities.