More proof metro Atlantans have big hearts

If things go as they hope, Jason and Rimbey Schroeder, their three daughters and pets will soon pack and move out of the Motel 6 room they have called home for nearly a year.

According to Toni Callahan, one of the founders at Village of Hope, they have begun the process of helping the Schroeders enter the Lawrenceville Housing Corp.’s Pathway Program, which offers disadvantaged families with children in Gwinnett County the opportunity to gain stability, learn healthy financial habits, and move toward permanent and safe housing.

In addition to preparing all the paperwork and letters of recommendations the Schroeders need to enter the housing program, Callahan told me they will walk alongside them for the two years it takes to complete the program and move into a permanent place.

As part of the bargain, the Schroeders will get a fully furnished home and a pantry stocked with food.

I first told you about the Schroeders after meeting them two weeks ago at the Motel 6 in Norcross. The family landed there after moving here from California and living in their car for several months. Dozens of you responded to their story, surprised that there are people among us forced to live in hotels.

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“Thanks for showcasing yet another segment of our society where, for so many, America is nowhere great again,” one reader wrote.

So many of you opened your hearts and offered your help. Gift cards. Money to cover a week’s stay at the hotel. Kathy Manos Penn coloring books for the kids.

“The outpouring of generosity has been a little overwhelming,” Rimbey Schroeder said.

But here’s the thing. The Schroeders are hardly unique. On a single night in January 2018, an estimated 180,413 people in families — or 56,342 family households — were identified as homeless (as in people without a permanent address), according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. About 16,390 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.

I heard from two women, for instance, who told me they can relate. One is a mother of seven who said she was on the brink of being evicted from her Cobb County apartment, and the other said she works at Publix by day but lives in her car in a Walmart parking lot.

According to a study published recently by Live Norcross, a local program of the statewide Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, the vast majority of people living in extended-stay motels have jobs but struggle financially.

The main reason they can’t get out?

Like the Schroeders, they can’t afford the upfront financial obligations they must fulfill to move into a rental unit.

Not surprisingly, some of you had questions. Like why the Schroeders’ children were still asleep at 9 a.m. the morning I visited? Was their lot the result of bad financial decisions? And why did they have three dogs?

One man decided to send me the average annual cost, according to the American Kennel Club, of keeping a dog: $3,600.

“Look it up!” he wrote. “You said the Schroeder’s have three!”

He probably takes issue with them owning a cellphone, too. Heck without an address, bankers don’t think they should have a savings account either. I guess if they ever get a buck or two to put aside for a permanent place, they’ll just have to put it between the mattresses.

I understand the questions. They are as natural as breathing.

We like to think we’re doing OK because we’re smarter than most, that we’d never splurge on a $5 latte if it meant the difference between paying the rent and a little hot pleasure and we’d certainly not have three dogs if we called a motel home.

There’s a group of researchers who’ve boiled this type of thinking down to the “fundamental attribution error” — a natural tendency to see the behavior of others as being determined by their character — while excusing our own behavior based on circumstances.

For example, if an unexpected medical emergency bankrupts you, your view of yourself is as a victim of bad fortune — while others are spendthrifts who foolishly drank too many lattes. Or you believe your success is the result of hard work but Joe Blow failed because of a lack of grit and merit.

Rich, poor or middle class, we deserve what we get and the only time an exception is warranted is when it’s, well, you or maybe someone you love.

There were far more of you who chose to see past the three dogs and just see a family who needed your help.

I got the feeling talking to Rimbey Schroeder that were she on the other side, she’d do the same thing.

“While all of this monetary support is great and sorely needed, we do not want to forget about others who are in the same position as we,” she told me.

She wondered if, perhaps, it might be better to work on this problem one case at a time or would it be more feasible to do something at the community level so people never find themselves in this situation in the first place?

“I do not know what the answer is,” she said. “We’re just grateful there are so many people who’ve offered to help.”

Village of Hope exclusively serves families residing in extended stays like the Schroeders and is the only Gwinnett organization that does street outreach. If you prefer to give to them, you can do so here: villageofhopelawrenceville.org/contributions.html.

Callahan said money will be used to help purchase bedding, mattresses, food and other items for families the organization helps.

If you’d rather make a donation directly to the Schroeders, write them at: Jason and Rimbey Schroeder, C/O Motel 6, 5395 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Norcross, GA 30092.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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