Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Tracye Neal, center, spent two years living in extended-stay motels, struggling to find an apartment while juggling work. She is pictured with her grown children. SVdP Georgia helped the family find a better future through its Motel to Home program.


St. Vincent de Paul Georgia expands program to help families escape motel life 

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 17, 2023

CHAMBLEE—Tracye Neal, a 53-year-old mother, spent two years living in extended-stay motels, struggling to find an apartment while juggling work. During this difficult period, she witnessed others grappling with similar adversities all while desiring more stable living arrangements.  

The motel became a home for Neal’s children as well, with the school bus dropping them off alongside other youngsters. From this humble home, one of her children attended a high school prom.  

Recalling her experiences, Neal said, “I didn’t have anything, not even a rug to sleep on.”  

As families like Neal’s confront this problem with higher rents and move-in fees, community organizations, such as St. Vincent de Paul Georgia’s Motel to Home initiative, provide support and resources to help families transition into secure, long-term housing.  

The effort empowers families to overcome the hardships from extended motel stays to create better futures. 

Thanks to a program run by St. Vincent de Paul Georgia, Neal has lived in a townhome for four years. And she works as peer mentor with the program, assisting others squeezed into motel rooms. Her children have grown, with SVdP also helping them with job skills.  

Tracye Neal is now a mentor to help families transition from extended motel stays to more permanent housing.

“I can live and not (just) survive,” Neal said.  

Grant to help more move from costly motels  

With the largest single donation in its 120-year history, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia hopes to be able to double the number of families it serves. 

The organization received a three-year grant of more than $1 million from the QuikTrip Corporation. The goal is to find permanent housing for 200 families in 2023. In the first five months of this year, the program helped 85 families with 161 children. With the additional grant funding, housing advocates aim to grow the program to 425 families in 2025.    

Mike Mies, the executive director of SVdP, called the support a “transformational gift that will allow us to expand a phenomenal program.” He said the nonprofit is “honored by QT’s endorsement of our mission” to help neighbors grow into successful families. The outreach is also supported by United Way of Greater Atlanta.    

Helping youth is one of QuikTrip’s strategic initiatives. The convenience store and gas station company dedicates 5% of net profits to charitable organizations in the communities it serves. It has 158 stores in Georgia and is on track to award some $2.8 million to Peach State nonprofits.  

QuikTrip spokeswoman Aisha Jefferson-Smith said the donation is a step in building stronger and safter communities.  

“Quick Trip is committed to investing in Atlanta’s young people by keeping them stably housed and helping them on pathways to success that will move Atlanta and the entire metro area,” she said at a presentation at the Chamblee headquarters of St. Vincent de Paul. “We look forward to seeing the expansion of the Motel to Home program in the coming years and are honored to support St. Vincent de Paul Georgia.” 

The program’s history 

Denise Fisher volunteered in 2019 as a case worker for the parish SVdP conference at St. Benedict Church, Duluth. She saw how families filled the nearby extended-stay hotels, which was the last choice before people turned to sleep in their cars or on the street. The outreach is supported by United Way.    

But soon, these motel rooms become too hard to leave. Families face $500 a week charges for a single room, with little else. With that high cost, it is a challenge for workers to save for a down payment for an apartment and keep a roof over their heads, she said.   

In the first year, about a dozen families were settled in permanent housing.  

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, experts estimate some 25,000 people rely on these extended-stay motels for housing.   

With the QuikTrip grant, the program will begin reaching across more of the state, relying on members of the St. Vincent de Paul conferences at parishes to facilitate. There are 73 parish conferences in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah.

To qualify for help, applicants must have a steady income and children. They must have lived in the motel for at least a month. Once accepted, clients receive the first and last month’s rent and utility start-up costs, among other financial assistance.   

The program also asks families to commit to changing lifelong habits. Adults in the program meet other participants at quarterly group workshops. They have one-on-one meetings with caseworkers over the course of a year to discuss budgeting, steps to improve their credit scores and goal setting.    

“Losing your home is one of the most traumatic experiences an adult can have, and having other people to share that experience with and talk through it and be able to move beyond that loss and pain is really important,” Fisher said.  

SVdP leaders are confident the initiative has had an impact. Since the program began, 98 percent of those enrolled have successfully maintained stable housing. Also, parents in the program have seen an increase in earning power, with a 14% increase in income. Proponents are encouraged in the academic progress of the children in their school environments. 

Neal credits the support system which surrounds participants as a key to her success. Budgeting may be something people need to learn, she said. “If you don’t see your money on paper, you just throw it away, like I did,” Neal said.  

“Motels to Home isn’t just an organization that throws money at people,” she said. “They’re really saving lives because they literally saved mine.”