Participants pause to pray during last year’s Midnight Walk.

By Grace Huseth

The Atlanta Dream Center uses strategic efforts to reach, rescue and restore homeless individuals, but public empathy and perception is also a major solution to the crisis.

To fully understand the homeless community, the Atlanta Dream Center has invited people to walk in their shoes during the Midnight Walk on Oct. 7. The fundraiser will help Atlantans better empathize with the suffering that characterizes homelessness as well as change the way it is perceived.

“Some people are afraid of homelessness, but when they experience it they realize they are normal people simply living in a different circumstance,” said Pastor Paul Palmer, founder of the Atlanta Dream Center.

The Atlanta Dream Center, a nonprofit organization based in the Old Fourth Ward, was formed founder and CEO Pastor Paul Palmer. For 13 years he has built various ministries that have reached the homeless, victims of commercial sexual exploitation and kids who are being neglected in their own homes.

The Midnight Walk will help fund the center’s iAM ministry that places individuals struggling with homelessness, addiction or domestic violence into long-term recovery programs. Each participant in the Midnight Walk will donate a minimum of $50 to iAM outreach efforts.

Nick McLean, homeless outreach coordinator, said the night will start by engaging conversations with the homeless while serving them a free dinner. Afterward they will do a prayer walk through the city, passing by troubled areas including the jail, strip clubs and Greyhound station.

“Our heart for the night is about relating. We want this to be an experience for us to relate to their reality,” McLean said.

At midnight, a candlelight vigil will be held on the Jackson Street Bridge overlooking Atlanta. The goal is to have 366 people light a candle to represent each night of 2016 (a Leap Year) year that a homeless individual has slept or will sleep on the streets of the city.

The nearly four mile walk will end in at the center around 1:30 a.m. with the option of staying the remainder of the night, sleeping on cardboard boxes in the center’s parking lot.

The walk is another outreach by members, who have been going to the same neighborhoods every Thursday for years to feed the homeless.

“Our whole mission is to consistently show love and compassion to the people we see on the streets,” McLean said. “We want them to know they are worth it and that they are valuable.”

For more information, visit atldreamcenter.com/midnightwalk.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.