Georgia Works


I read about the Georgia Works organization on Grantland, a sports and pop-culture site that I frequent. I was reading an article about Tommy Gaines, a former basketball prodigy from a small town in Georgia whose residents are stuck in a terrible self-fulfilling prophechy of crime and drug addiction. His basketball career was sidetracked by drug addiction that ruined his marriage, his relationship with family members, and left him homeless. He was able to turn his life around by entering the Georgia Works program.

Georgia Works was founded in October 2013  by retired investment banker Bill Mcgahan who wanted to end homelessness in Atlanta and around Georgia by employing people who most likely fit the following description: “A middle aged African-American male who has been arrested numerous times. He is likely a felon who has child support obligations and has not held a steady job for nearly two years. He’s been homeless at least a year, and he has a history of substance abuse.” The Georgia Works program requires that those who voluntarily enroll agree to the following:

  • Remain Drug Free (continuous testing)
  • Work 30 to 35 hours per week
  • Get along and respect others
  • Agree to end Public Assistance (with the exception of Medicaid).
  • Sign documentation allowing staff to identify if they have current child support orders or arrearages.
  • Agree to save 20% of income. This “forced savings” will allow clients to have saved approximately $2,000 upon graduation from the program.

Workers are employed in jobs such as picking up trash around Atlanta. As a result of the program, the communities that employ Georgia Works have reported never having seen their parks and public places being cleaner. 42 men and counting have graduated from the Georgia Works program and are completely self-sufficient. To me, it is amazing to see an investment banker realize that he has made an incredible amount of money, and retire from his life work to dedicate his time to a philanthropic cause.

Work cited:

Grantland Article:

Image and information:


4 thoughts on “Georgia Works”

    1. Chris,

      No it does not. Georgia Works does have requirements for entry. You must be homeless (it is a combination work-shelter program), you must have medication for any medical problems you have (i.e. high blood pressure medication), must pass a drug test, and more. I also know that when you are invitied to join the program, there is a 30 day trial period and if your co-workers do not want to work with you they can vote you out of the program (you can always reapply). Also, if you have a drug relapse you are kicked out of the program, but you can reapply when you are clean.


  1. Some part of me feels like this sounds too much like the chain gangs that were widespread throughout the South through the Jim Crow era. They are in public. “Branded” with a clothing that makes the public see who they are. They are required to maintain a higher standard of behavior than their supposed betters- the supervisors in the program can drink and not be fired from the program.

    Are they being paid minimum wage? Or less than? And they are doing public works.

    You say they must give up other benefits like food stamps? Housing subsidies? Many people in poverty barely get out and then are thrown back in because it is hard to build up enough financial reserves to weather medial or other life situations.

    They are forced to reveal private financial and medical information.

    And at the end, what do they get? $2,000? How do you know they are self-sufficient?

    From a history article about chain gangs:
    “The chain gangs originated as a part of a massive road development project in the 1890s. Georgia was the first state to begin using chain gangs to work male felony convicts outside of the prison walls. Chains were wrapped around the ankles of prisoners, shackling five together while they worked, ate, and slept. Following Georgia’s example, the use of chain gangs spread rapidly throughout the South.7

    For over 30 years, African-American prisoners (and some white prisoners) in the chain gangs were worked at gunpoint under whips and chains in a public spectacle of chattel slavery and torture. Eventually, the brutality and violence associated with chain gang labor in the United States gained worldwide attention. The chain gang was abolished in every state by the l950s, almost 100 years after the end of the Civil War.8”


  2. And here is the kicker, from your Atlanta-Journal article: ” giving the organization contracts to clean or landscape their properties at a competitive rate — knowing that they’re helping reduce homelessness at the same time.”

    So, these pseudo chain gangs can undercut regular businesses!


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