In response to the growth of homelessness in Atlanta, Rebecca’s Tent first opened its doors in 1983. It was one of the first women’s shelters in the City of Atlanta and the first homeless shelter housed in a synagogue in the United States. Formerly named the Shearith Israel Shelter, Rebecca’s Tent has given support and refuge to nearly 1200 women, age 18 and over.
All kinds of women have come to us and received love, acceptance, love and a helping hand. Shelter services have been and continue to be free of charge.
It started during a frigidly cold winter in Atlanta when Congregation Shearith Israel’s Rabbi Mark Wilson realized that help was sorely needed for the homeless women here. He enlisted the help of a congregation member named Helen Spiegel, whose family had fled to America to escape the Nazi regime. A refugee from Germany, she knew first-hand the pain of homelessness and displacement. This enabled her to become a beacon of hope to the lucky “guests” who populated the shelter beds.
Helen and her husband Frank heard hundreds of stories of success and failure — of shelter residents who banded together to monitor the bathrooms to help a young woman who was bulimic to change her behavior, of volunteers who took sick ladies to Grady and of synagogue personnel who contacted a young resident’s parents to reunite them.
Over the years the shelter’s services expanded to include weekly empowerment workshops, career and financial management coaching, conflict resolution and health education. A year-round Case Management program was implemented to give former shelter residents continued support, access to services and community referrals, and resources to help them build independent lives.
Still dependent on the generosity of volunteers, donors and community partners, the shelter operates today as an independent, nonprofit organization that works to create a environment where women are empowered to become self-sufficient.
In 2015, the name of the shelter, The Shearith Israel Shelter for Homeless Women, changed to Rebecca’s Tent, A Shelter for Women at Shearith Israel, to enable the larger community and surrounding neighborhoods to better connect and identify with the mission and vision of the organization.